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Madison New Music Festival offers more compositions about buildings and mood

The event will highlight notable works from a diverse selection of contemporary artists.

The event will highlight notable works from a diverse selection of contemporary artists.

Photo: Evan Williams, in a dark blue blazer and solid blue dress shirt, leans against an old brick wall, smiling. (Photograph by SnoStudios Photography.)

The Madison New Music Festival‘s Friday, July 30 return to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is set to offer a compact but compelling showcase of fresh perspectives on classical and avant-garde music. This year’s schedule features work from composers Eric Delgado, Chiayu Hsu, Evan Williams, and the duo of Anastasia Adams and nibiiwakamigkwe.

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Last year, Delgado released “Lilies Abound,” which tapped into the deep and hypnotic effect of the vibraphone with masterful simplicity, displaying the nuances of his compositional talent. The ever-curious Madison-based percussion project Filament Duo will be performing that piece at the festival, as well as “Phased Meditations,” which is something of a musical enactment of the Socratic method. The piece allows the audience into the performance and encourages them to add an improvisational layer to the composition, with whatever instruments they have at their disposal (vocalizing is as encouraged as incorporating the sounds of a cell phone). Utilizing the ethos of collective creativity, Delgado manages to intentionally erase familiar boundaries with “Phased Meditations,” fostering a sense of community to startling effect in the process. 

Composer and UW-Eau Claire music professor Chiayu Hsu has described her approach as “the combination of Chinese elements and western techniques.” Hsu’s pieces have been performed by various acclaimed ensembles worldwide. But the composer’s affinity for Wisconsin remains palpable.  

 Milwaukee City Hall—once the city’s tallest building—inspired Hsu to compose her two-section piece City Renaissance for Doors Open Milwaukee, an event that highlights the beauty of the city’s architecture. In City Renaissance‘s first section, Hsu mimics the building’s atmospheric calm during daybreak. Section two is oriented around the feel of the building when the sun’s at full crest, allowing the piece to follow its inevitable descent, ultimately winding back down to a poetic stillness. Flutist Emilio Rutllant and cellist Trace Johnson will be tasked here with making the piece translate to Madison’s skyline.

 “For composers, it’s always crucial to have performances of our music and to reach out to more audiences,” Hsu says. “I really appreciate the team at MMoCA for hosting and programming this diverse night of music, so audiences can have an opportunity to explore different kinds of composition.”

Evan Williams’ music has a tendency to work its way from avant-garde harshness to tender new-romanticism while underscoring unifying elements between the two. Digging into Williams’ work, pieces like Steve Reich’s “Pendulum Music” are as likely to come to mind as any composition of pointed minimalism. There are sounds that are cloud-like, enveloped with atmosphere, and then there are others that sound like metal coffee shop chairs being dragged along stained tile. Spaces between the woodwinds’ breaths roll along and your ears swear they can still hear the beauty. Steph Lippert, on bass trombone, will perform Williams’ composition “Amber Waves” at the festival.

 In its most traditional sense, the Inuit version of throat singing is a half-game, half-competition designed for two women or femme persons. For nibiiwakamigkwe and Anastasia Adams, the practice offered resonance. Their friendship and creative partnership was forged over common bonds they discovered they shared as co-workers. “Having a musical connection and shared background were part of our survival tools, and we’re grateful that it has grown into something we can share with others,” nibiiwakamigkwe says.

 For the Madison New Music festival, Adams—who has a background as a musical performer, educator, and  is a direct descendant of the Western Yup’ik tribe—will sing her native throat songs, while nibiiwakamigkwe dances in their traditional jingle dress. “I didn’t sing for 10 years because I didn’t have anyone to lead me. It’s a good principle to have for any extra-cultural work: involvement comes with permission and ability to listen,” nibiiwakamigkwe says.

 “There are not many throat singers this far south (the closest I know live in Toronto),” nibiiwakamigkwe continues, “and the practice is relatively unknown to non-Natives in this region. Throat singing, like many other forms of Indigenous music, is often relegated to intra-tribal or Native-focused gatherings where people have established understanding or is broadly considered one-time educational entertainment to non-Native folks, which is part of the colonial narrative that Indigenous people are remnants of a situational historic past as opposed to a contemporary, active present. We are still here, creating new works, and contributing members of our communities.”

 This year’s edition of the Madison New Music Festival is free, and event organizers have reduced the event’s capacity out of concern for safety. The music is scheduled to take place in MMoCA’s rooftop sculpture garden, but will move inside to the museum’s lecture hall if it rains. Masks will be required indoors.

Correction: The initial version of this article misstated Anastasia Adams’ tribal affiliation. It is Western Yup’ik, not Alaskan Yup’ik. The reference has been corrected.

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