Live Music in Nashville

Nashville Composer Collective at Asaph’s Chamber

This past Sunday afternoon (September 20th) the Nashville Composer Collective (NCC) put on their 22nd program in Belmont University’s intimate Asaph’s Chamber. Chairs were spread out out throughout the space either alone or in pairs and accommodated about 25 audience members. The concert, lasting barely under an hour, was an unpretentious presentation of six varying works and resulted in six individual successes. Personally, I was tremendously excited for this performance as it was the first live music event I have attended in over half a year.

Melanie Alvey

John Darnall, Director of the NCC, introduced each piece and its’ composer, offering them the opportunity to say a few words about their work. First up was Melanie Alvey with her piece Mountain Echoes orchestrated for three violins (one electrically amplified and hooked up to a looping station), viola, cello, and electric bass. Opening with a solo violin creating a multi layered loop of an asymmetric groove, gradually the rest of the ensemble comes in building on the established beat. This piece was pleasing both aurally and visually seeing the opposing violins echoing gracefully back and forth to each other over the ostinato. Mountain Echoes was a personal favorite of mine on the concert and it is always a treat to see the composer performing their own work.

Up next was Jack Williams’ Emergence for string quartet. Steeped in 20th century compositional techniques, Emergence is a mature piece that gripped me from the start. Quartal and quintal harmonies mix with contrapuntal techniques, motives bounce around the ensemble, and lyrical melodies are contrasted with jagged sections. Although there was much going on throughout the piece, one never lost their way and could easily follow the logic of the piece.

After two string ensembles the concert moved to Joodils by Andre Madatian for flute and piano. Translated from Armenian, Joodils means “Little Bird.” This work was written for his Grandmother who recently passed and who always enjoyed bird song. The flute, depicting the bird calls, was complemented with the supportive harmonies of Nathan Girard at the piano who occasionally also echoed some of the bird calls. Special appreciation should be given to Jess Benevento on the flute, who tackled the virtuosic flute part with great poise and fantastic technique. Overall Joodils was a great joyful piece that is a fantastic memorial to Andre’s grandmother’s memory.

Lyric and Poet Aurora Bodenhamer

Beginning the second portion of the event was Jeremy Smith’s song cycle I Don’t Admire You Like I Did When I was 21 In the Spring. This included three short songs: Drug Store Train Trip, Jersey, and Your Apartment in Soho. Jeremy set the words of Aurora Bodenhamer, a poet who he found on Instagram (and also did the hand drawn cartoons for the accompanying lyric sheet). Erin Hildebrandt, sang her way beautifully through the score which was filled with tricky harmonic intervals and impressive leaps. The music was thickly set to the rather unassuming poems, and Jeremy was able to draw out the humor and color of the words.

Kyle Baker’s Divertimenti for Clarinet and Piano was up next. This was a beautiful piece that featured the clarinet, played brilliantly by Raymond Ridley. Melodies led the piece from one section to the next with the clarinet usually taking the lead. It was solidly constructed and would make for a great repertoire piece for any clarinetist. My one complaint is that we were only treated to the first movement, entitled Wandering. 

Ending the program was the first movement of John Darnall’s “String Quartet #1” that he was recently commissioned to write. Similar to the other quartet on the program, this piece drew inspiration from 20th century techniques, and John masterfully infused them with his own colors and ideas. Of particular interest to me was the wonderful treatment of the pizzicato within the piece. Sometimes it served as an accompaniment to other melodies, and in differing places it was a technique featured throughout the entire ensemble.

The concert was a great success for each of the composers and the whole Nashville Composer Collective ensemble. It is always a treat to hear new music, and especially so when the composer is still alive and able to talk to you about their work. I look forward to attending many more concerts and supporting the NCC in all that they do, and I would encourage anyone reading to support the ensemble.

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