Saturday, June 25, 2011

A free ten-hour festival of music today at the High Museum

Atlanta music fans get a rare opportunity to hear ten hours of music for free on Saturday, June 25, from 2 p.m. to midnight, in an even rarer venue: the lobby of the High Museum.

An event called SonicPalooza is offering the work of contemporary composers, ranging from Steve Reich to Atlanta's Mark Gresham, performed by the Atlanta group Sonic Generator. The concert's costs are being totally subsidized by the High Museum. The unique concert event, featuring 26 pieces of music, is the idea of Tom Sherwood, Sonic Generator's artistic director. The Georgia Tech group is the University's ensemble-in-residence.

Also featured will be a variety of compositional styles: Tristan Perich's "A/B/C/D" in the 2 p.m. hour, John Luther Adams' "Immeasurable Space of Tones" after 5 p.m., and "Unto the Hills" by George Crumb at 8 p.m. The conclusion will be a presentation of "Music for 18 Musicians," Steve Reich's groundbreaking 1970s composition, at 10:30 p.m.

Sonic Generator

If the extended free concert is a success Sherwood hopes to create other visual and musical events, with several ideas already in the planning stages. Pierre Ruhe recently talked with Tom Sherwood for an interview about today's event on the website ArtsCriticATL. Here's an excerpt:

Where’d this all-day festival come from?

“We’re obviously ripping off the Bang on a Can marathon, which I totally love,” says Sherwood, referring to the all-day new-music smackdown in New York, which has inspired similar events in Detroit and elsewhere. “I love being surrounded by all that music, and I wanted something like that in Atlanta. You come or go as you please, totally uninhibited. Stay five minutes or five hours. There’s such a burgeoning arts culture in Atlanta right now, people seem really hungry for exciting and different experiences.”

Like the last night of DalĂ­ at the High Museum, open all night?

“Did you see that? We were there at midnight and the line was out the door, stretching down to Peachtree Street. That’s an energy we’re trying to tap.”

But hasn’t the visual arts scene always seemed less structured, more hip?

“In the visual arts you’re at your leisure to take in what you want, go between rooms, return to a painting you like, watch the reaction of other people to a work of art. We want SonicPalooza to be closer to that vibe than a typical concert hall setting.”

But 10 hours of music? That sounds like a lot of work.

“It’s really not that much harder, logistically speaking, to program two hours or 10 hours. I’ve always wanted to do ‘Music for 18 Musicians,’ which is probably the greatest piece of music from the late 20th century that I can think of. So when we’ve got five percussionists for that, you start to think, ‘What if we added another hour?’ It snowballs. Add a few solo pieces [which musicians can rehearse on their own] and you start thinking about a larger time span. And your imagination starts to take off. And the implications of the event start to take on a whole larger meaning.”

Then there’s the cost of the show.

“The Woodruff Arts Center is paying for the whole thing, part of its Celebrate Diversity Program. We’re testing the waters in collaboration with the arts center. We’re talking about other things, like [the silent film] ‘Metropolis’ projected on an outside wall [of the High Museum], with a modern French score. It would be cool if this festival could happen once a year.”

And the music?

“These are all American composers, and a lot of it is music Sonic Generator has performed at some point before. We’re committed to it. Our marathon should hopefully raise the exposure to how much really beautiful and interesting contemporary music is out there. John Luther Adams’ music will sound really beautiful in the lobby space, just magical. To me, it’s not about getting someone to stay for 10 hours, it’s about giving them the chance to check it out."

The complete program schedule is listed in Pierre Ruhe's comprehensive article. As he notes, most of the featured composers have their individual websites. For more information on the marathon, visit Sonic Generator’s website.

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