LIVE: Meredith Monk @ Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center, 2/13/15

February 25th, 2015, 3:00 pm by Greg

Meredith Monk

Meredith Monk

Review & photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

For a small college, Saratoga Springs’ Skidmore College presents some pretty major arts events. Between the Zankel Music Center and the Tang Museum alone – not to mention the Dance Theater, the Bernhard Theater or Filene Hall – the campus has hosted an amazing number of world-class performances, exhibits and events over the years with world-renowned visiting composers, musicians, choreographers, actors and artists who have been invited for residencies ranging from a few days to weeks, as they oversee workshops, recitals and rehearsals bringing their work to life.

This semester the brilliant and innovative composer Meredith Monk made her debut working with the college’s music department, the Office Of the Dean of Special Programs and the Ensemble ACJW (members of the Academy, a program of Carnegie Hall, the Juilliard School and the Weill Institute).

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For a half century now, Monk has done pioneering work as a cutting-edge composer, vocalist, choreographer and creator of a new style of opera and music theater. Her accolades the world over are too numerous to mention – but let’s just say if you watched feature films by France’s Jean-Luc Godard or the Coen brothers or have followed the recent HBO series, True Detective, chances are you’ve heard her work. Monk’s compositions are involving, both emotionally and intellectually, and have been recorded for the past few decades on ECM Records.

Earlier this month at the Zankel Music Center, Monk and the musicians of the Ensemble ACJW presented the world premiere of her new composition “Backlight,” in a program where it was sandwiched between a piece by Albert Roussell and an intimate trio work by Maurice Ravel.

To put things into perspective, Monk offered a pre-concert talk, skillfully moderated by Skidmore music professor Gordon Thompson. Two of the participating musicians in “Backlight” – Jacqueline Cordova-Arrington (flute) and Michael James Smith (piano) – also took part in the discussion and the following Q&A session with the audience. Monk fielded questions about her residency and participation in the rehearsal process from the viewpoint of the composer and gave equal time to the two young musicians who helped realize her musical vision. It was interesting and enlightening for the audience to hear about the new work from both sides of composing and performing paradigm.

Throughout the 45-minute chat, the egoless and often smiling Monk was very generous with her time, often deflecting the audience’s questions to the musicians, citing that the creation process is and was collaborative.

There was a large and appreciative audience in the house at the Zankel to enjoy a gorgeous musical program deftly balanced between the old and the new. Monk’s composition was performed flawlessly, and the icing on the cake was that it was brand-spanking-new.

Joseph Dalton’s review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Geraldine Freedman’s review at The Daily Gazette: “‘Backlight’ is Monk’s exploration into instrumental color, through the subtle layering of lines of repeated motifs against lone voices from spare to denser textures. With the alteration of rhythms, dark harmonies that have no discernible tonal center and the occasional use of vocalizations into a player’s wind instrument, Monk created a piece that is all atmosphere — sometimes haunting, sometimes threatening. Written for flute, oboe, clarinet/alto clarinet, bassoon, piano, viola and cello, all of which were played with great focus and intent, the three segments seemed to have no real beginning and all ended suddenly. The large crowd clapped enthusiastically, and Monk gave each of the players a hug.”

Meredith Monk and Gordon R. Thompson

Meredith Monk and Gordon R. Thompson

(from left) Meredith Monk, Gordon R. Thompson, Jacqueline Cordova-Arrington and Michael James Smith

(from left) Meredith Monk, Gordon R. Thompson, Michael James Smith and Jacqueline Cordova-Arrington