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Conservatory “Crossroads” and Eighth Blackbird

March 05, 2012

New music is a term that is at once self-descriptive and wide-ranging.

The Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City offered two concerts over the weekend that championed this diversity.

Friday night was a preview performance of “Crossroads,” a showcase of Conservatory talent to be presented in New York on Friday at Le Poisson Rouge, an art-music club.

On Sunday afternoon the Grammy Award-winning chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird, presented in partnership with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, performed its first engagement as UMKC’s 2012 Barr Laureate Ensemble.

‘Crossroads’

The variety of Friday’s program reflected the eclecticism of this international cohort of composers and performers — most of whom have lived or currently reside in Kansas City. The gallery/performance space/workspace of OfficePort in the Crossroads Arts District was filled to overflowing for the two-hour performance, presented without intermission.

The music examined what it is to be human — the deep, hard emotions as well as the ephemerality of a hearty joke or fleeting memory.

The highlight of the evening was the Kansas City premiere of excerpts from the opera “Madame White Snake,” composed by Conservatory distinguished professor Zhou Long, which garnered him the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2011. It is based on a traditional Chinese folktale, the story of a snake demon that becomes a woman and falls in love.

Conservatory faculty and students performed the selections. The full orchestral score, which also includes traditional Chinese instruments, was scaled down to piano and percussion, and the chorus was condensed to two. But the effect of the thrilling melodies and exotic timbres resonated despite the reduction of forces.

Other notable performances were trumpeter Keith Benjamin’s riotous “Icarus Wept” by James Mobberley; modern renderings on the ancient sounds of the zither-like zheng, played by Jing Zhou in a piece she co-composed with pianist Amao Wang; Christopher Jawong McKiggan’s keyboard pummeling in works by John Corigliano and Narong Prangcharoen; and the lyricism overlaying percussive effects in Chen Yi’s “Yangko.”

Eighth Blackbird

Chicago-based Eighth Blackbird is a six-member ensemble that combines virtuosic musicianship with experimental techniques. The performance for the full house in the museum’s Atkins Auditorium was no exception.

The program was intended to “create as diverse an experience as you would have walking the corridors of this museum,” flutist Tim Munro said from the stage.

The concert featured 2009-2012 Barr Laureate Stephen Hartke’s “Meanwhile: Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays.” Inspired by various forms of Asian puppet theater, the piece explored new sonorities, including a “flexitone gamelan,” as well as spatial relationships as the musicians clustered into choreographed units that were rearranged throughout the piece.

They also performed commissions from David Lang and Bruno Mantovani, an early work by Philip Glass and a new piece by Andy Akiho, winner of Blackbird’s first composition competition.

Read more here: http://www.narongmusic.com/Press/KansasCity_com.htm#storylink=cpy