As I stepped out of the Jackson Terminal space last evening and into the solstice-eve moonlight of the Old City, everything seemed altered, a bit different. The city looked and felt transformed, as if a layer of haze had been peeled away revealing a new scene. That is the power of music. And, that is the potential that the contemporary music organization, nief-norf, represents.
[For an overview of nief-norf, their Summer Festival 2016, and co-founders Andy Bliss and Kerry O’Brien, check out the cover story in the June 9 issue of the Knoxville Mercury.]
Last evening was the final performance of the nief-norf Summer Festival 2016, a 13-day, 8-concert experience that brought composers, performers, and music scholars together for workshops and presentations, and rehearsals and performances for participants and Knoxville contemporary music audiences. This final marathon concert began around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, continuing till after 10, running the gamut of contemporary eclectic music, including works by nief-norf “faculty” composers Christopher Adler and Christopher Burns, Judd Greenstein, Michael Fiday, nief-norf “Call for Scores Winner” Nicole Murphy, and on to the late-but-greats Iannis Xenakis, Morton Feldman, and Luciano Berio. The concert even included a terrific piano-four-hands version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which brought down the house and the audience to their feet. Murphy’s Stolen—a 2014 work full of exhilarating tension for clarinet, electric guitar, percussion, piano, violin, and double bass—was a real highpoint in an evening of highpoints. I’d also have to call out Greenstein’s Change (flute, clarinet, electric guitar, double bass, and piano), a work that flirts with jazz in a labyrinth of textures. Change was also performed on the Festival’s Concert 4 on June 14.
Public concerts began on June 7 at UT’s Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall, not slowly or tentatively, but with a rush of eye and ear-opening expression. Composers heard on this opening concert were David Bithell, Tonia Ko, Christopher Burns, David Lang, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Nicholas Deyoe, and Christopher Adler. Adler’s The Toy Robot’s Mechanical Heart, a work for toy piano and percussion, has really stayed with me since, its energy and rhythmic complexity having a life of its own.
Spatial and visual variety was also a notable part of the festival. Concert 3 on Saturday evening, June 11, took to the outdoors at Ijams Nature Center. The early evening was taken by an installation of Wild Energy by Annea Lockwood and Bob Bielecki, followed later by a performance of Xenakis’ 1978 work, Pléïades.
Concerts also took place at downtown Knoxville’s Emporium Center and the Square Room, the latter offering a performance of Charles Wuorinen’s Arabia Felix, along with works by Michael Gordan (For Madeline), Christopher Cerrone (South Catalina), and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon (Sones de Tierra Fría).
As the memories of musical ecstasy and the specific details of the eight concerts blurs with time, one is left with two clear facts of the underlying importance of nief-norf and its Summer Festival. First, contemporary music is being supported by offering composers and performers an immersive experience of development, rehearsal, and performance. Second, contemporary music is being unabashedly promoted to the general music public, an audience which admittedly varies from those cautiously receptive to those who willfully avoid the new. A winner is also Knoxville’s diverse music scene as well, which can boast the growth and vitality of cutting edge music and performance across the musical spectrum.
nnSF 2016 Faculty: Allison Adams, Christopher Adler, Andrew Bliss, Christopher Burns, Lisa Cella, Tim Feeney, Tonia Ko, Andrea Lodge, Kerry O’Brien, Jay Sorce, Ashley Walters, Eric Willie
nnSF 2016 Performance Fellows: Trevor Babb, Brandon Baker, Jeremy Bass, Aubrey Burdick, Cole Castorina, Sophie Chang, Jonathan Clancy, Sarah Compton, Jordan Curcuruto, Stephen Downing, Katherine Eikam, David Floyd, Wesley Fowler, Ty Gable, Aaron Gochberg, Annie Jeng, Kin Lam Lam, Colin McCall, Elizabeth Milligan, Samuel Nichols, Jessie Nucho, Nicholas, Papador, McKayla Phillips, Alexandra Porter, Brant Roberts, Nicholas Samuel, Bradely Schilit, Daniel Schreiner, Iris Sidikman, Eric Singh, Marta Tiesenga, Gabrielle Vanek, Chelsea Villaneuva, Will Yager, Joshua Weinberg, Kevin Zetina
nnSF 2016 Composition Fellows: Jeremy Wexler, Anna Meadors, Craig Davis Pinson, Shawn Milloway, Louise Fristensky, Sean McFarland, Hunter Long, Zach Jones, Tori Ovel, Joshua Charney