Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wooden Cities and Aaron Staebell premiere new music at Pausa

Wooden Cities, photo by Megan Metté
Next weekend, Pausa Art House will host an evening of new music—very new music. On October 25, Rochester-based drumset virtuoso Aaron Staebell will join forces with the Buffalo new music collective, Wooden Cities, to present a concert of newly composed works. With more than half of the pieces being world premieres, the program is sure to delight those interested in hearing what local composers are up to in 2014.

A Buffalo native, Aaron Staebell is a percussionist in high-demand. A graduate of the Eastman School, Staebell has played with such visionaries as Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider, Rick Braun, and Wycliffe Gordon. His jazz ensemble, Bending and Breaking, released an album of Staebell-penned compositions in 2011, and his playing can also be heard on Dave Chilholm's Calligraphy and Ben Thomas's Endless Mountain Regions (below is an excerpt from the latter, with saxophonist Tony Malaby).

For this program, however, Staebell will present works commissioned for his soloDRUMsolo project, part of an endeavor to generate "art music for drumset". His set will feature Baljinder Sekhon's The Sounds of My Drums, along with premieres of pieces by Whitney George, Daniel Adams, and Wooden Cities' Zane Merritt. With the drumset often being typecast as a groove-based instrument, Staebell sought out composers who could expand on the instrument's lexicon, treating it more like a multi-percussion setup. "I'm trying to generate some more pieces for drummers that are not just 'drum solos' in the traditional sense." He points out that while classical percussionists often play works for marimba, snare drum, timpani, et al., and sometimes use the drumset, there are very few works that give the instrument equal focus.  
Aaron Staebell

"My hope is that I can spark a movement to develop more music of this kind, so that 'classical' percussionists are encouraged to play more drumset, and so that the drumset is more accepted as a viable instrument in the percussion world." The pieces in the soloDRUMsolo project bypass genre-stylizations (latin, rock, jazz, etc.) in favor of new ways of directly interfacing with the instrument. For some of these composers, this means creating a brand new language for drumset—indeed, Merritt's piece goes by the evocative title "Counter-Esperanto", name-checking that most famous invented language.

Jeffrey Stadelman
photo by Irene Haupt

For their set, Wooden Cities will present a collection of works by Buffalo composers, continuing the ensemble's localvore-ist predilection for featuring music created in their midst. The collective will be joined by two guest performers:  electric bassist and composer Meredith Gilna will assist in the premiere of her piece Jack Green, while the Buffalo Philharmonic's principal bassoonist Glenn Einschlag will join a performance of Robert Phillip's Larghetto Rubato—a piece premiered at the Center in 2010 during the residency of Magnus Andersson, Pascal Gallois, and Rohan de Saram. The program will also feature Sea Change by UB faculty composer, Jeffrey Stadelman, an intensely detailed work with references to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, featuring cellist (and recent addition to the group) Katie Weissman and oboist Megan Kyle. Wooden Cities premiered two other works by Stadelman earlier this year at the Inaugural Muriel Wolf and Albert Steiger Endowment Concert, a program which also saw performances of works by Lukas Foss and Lejaren Hiller (a video of Merritt's Burning City, premiered at this event, can be seen below).

The program will conclude with a performance of John Zorn's famous game piece, Cobra, featuring both Wooden Cities and Staebell. The performance will be a reunion of sorts, as Wooden Cities' director, Brendan Fitzgerald, originally formed the group in 2011 specifically to perform Zorn's piece, and their first performance featured Staebell on drums. The ensemble has since become one of the foremost interpreters of this piece, which uses a strict set of rules to guide free improvisational activity. This tense push-and-pull between control and freedom often erupts in complex social dynamics which take shape on stage as the performers fight for control of the music. With Staebell behind the drums and Fitzgerald directing his band of skilled improvisors, there's no telling what will happen.  Only that it will be…new.

soloDRUMsolo / Wooden Cities+
Pausa Art House
Saturday, October 25, 2014, 8:00pm
$7, $5 students

Edge of the Center covered Wooden Cities' December 2012 concert, read about it here.

—Ethan Hayden