By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–The contemporary music ensemble A/Tonal, co-founded by Erich Stem, associate professor of music at IU Southeast and the group’s composer-in-residence, will perform a free concert at 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville on Sunday, November 10, at 7 p.m.
It’s music like you’ve never seen it before.
That’s right: seen.
A/Tonal will perform music whose selection was influenced and inspired by works in the exhibition, Labor & Materials, at the hotel. Think of it as a live soundtrack to a movie, without the movie, but with works of art instead, works that enchant, provoke, move, and challenge.
For Stem and A/Tonal, a group that likes to push boundaries of music and of the performance context while showcasing the works of local composers, it’s the perfect challenge.
Labor & Materials is a multimedia exhibition that grapples with the dynamism and tragedy, ingenuity and desecration, promise and costs of the global economy, with a focus on individuals caught up in an accelerating race to survive.
“The scale, scope, and speed of technological innovation heralds unprecedented changes in what, how, where, and by whom goods and services are produced and provided,” according to Alice Gray Stites, museum director and chief curator
Artists whose works are featured in the exhibition include Chinese photographer Chen Jiagang, multimedia artist Karine Giboulo, sculptor Johan Thurfjell, and many others.
A/Tonal will perform five works, including one by Stem. The other composers are Nicholas Muhly, Missy Mazzoli, John Luther Adams, and Mary Kouyoumdjian.
“Finding music that we can get behind and that has a similar artistic purpose to one of the visual artworks is the most challenging part of this collaboration,” Stem said. “Despite these challenges, there are enough similarities in the general sense between the music and visual pieces that make this possible.”
Those similarities are not serendipitous, but the result of trial and error, pondering and discussion as the musicians pared a larger volume of works down to the five that they will present.
“I think the most enjoyable part in all of this is seeing the similarities and differences in how two artists in different disciplines — one in music and one in visual — explore subjects or approaches in the creation of a piece,” Stem said.
For the players, the experience is unique and rewarding.
“I think it adds another dimension to the experience of playing a piece and giving meaning to your work,” Stem said. “Not only are you playing music by a living composer — something that most classical musicians don’t often get a change to do — but you are using the power of sound to help the audience extract meaning from an art piece, and visa versa.”
This concert is part of the New Lens series presented by WUOL, the classical music station of Louisville Public Media, a member station of National Public Radio (NPR).
New Lens comprises concerts and conversations exploring diverse and intriguing sounds and ideas in new music, art and society.
The concert is also part of a steadily evolving relationship between the 21c Museum Hotel and A/Tonal.
In 2018, the group connected music to the artworks in the “Dress Up, Speak Up” exhibit. Based on that success, the group collaborated with Museum Manager Karen Gillenwater to produce the new “connection” experience.
The concert also represents broader exposure for the music program at IU Southeast.
Most of the members of A/Tonal are connected to IU Southeast in some way. Stem is a member of the composition faculty, pianist and vocalist Jessica Dorman (A/Tonal co-founder) and cellist Jon Silpayanamant (A/Tonal core member) teach as adjuncts and are also instructors in the Arts Institute. Clarinetist and A/Tonal co-founder Carrie RavenStem is an alumna of the IU Southeast music program, and has also taught classes there.
In addition, the institution played a key role in helping the ensemble get off the ground.
“IU Southeast supported A/Tonal in its formative years by financially backing our first EP through an IU Regional Research/Creativity Initiative grant and offering halls and rehearsal space to house our first two seasons,” Stem said. “I think this support shows that IU Southeast is always open to supporting new endeavors.”
For more information about the concert, please visit the A/Tonal website.
Homepage photo courtesy of 21c Museum Hotel.