Unconventional Classical: Original Gravity Concert Series, July 23, 2015

Original Gravity Concert Series: Cider & Music Pairing
Unique concert cider paired with the music of Dan VanHassel
Thursday, July 23, 2015
7pm (Concert @ 7:30)
Standing room – bring a folding chair or pull up some floor

Presented at Bantam Cider Company
40 Merriam St
Somerville, MA
Original Gravity on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Somerville, MA) The Original Gravity Concert Series pairs the compositions of current composers with local breweries. The concert presented on July 23 paired an original cider from Bantam Cider Company with the music of Dan VanHassel. The cider was blended with grapefruit juice and infused with Rakau hops. VanHassel’s compositions utilized influences from Indonesian gamelan, found bicycle wheels and electronic instruments, jazz and classical musical styles. The sound was eclectic and had to be heard to be believed. The cider was crisp with a sharp, bitter aftertaste. It was a classical music nerd’s slightly tipsy wet dream.

The cider, as the music, is not what most would consider “classical.” The evening’s beverage had a  smooth texture, appealing color and scent. It’s flavor was not to my personal preference but the elements it was comprised of were high quality. This is significant because VanHassel’s music can be interpreted in the same manner.

VanHassel found talented musicians to interpret his scores. They displayed exemplary skill during the performance. Yet, what they were playing caused many to overlook how they were playing. Please understand: this is not the atonal, non-serial music that Stravinsky intended.  Rather, it was at times reminiscent of city noises during rush hour on a Friday evening before a major holiday, say. It depends on the listener’s expectations how well this concert will be received by an individual. There was a strict rhythm, healthy echo, and vibrancy to the music but, to the naked ear, it sounded like expensive noise. Now, if approached from an experimental perspective, it is fascinating what can be created by blending unlikely instruments. If approached as a conventional family-friendly-ish concert, it can be jarring. The appeal is in the intellectual stretch. Not in the ease of digestion.

The opening piece “Ghost in the Machine” (2013) sounded like a Victorian seance complete with raps on wood (cello), shivers from the saxophone, and faint vibrations from transducer-activated percussion. There were hints of a melody but nothing concrete. All stylistic elements with the range of contemporary, atonal, nonserial classical music. But nothing that could be compared to conventional classical music.

“Fzzl” (2011), a piece for snare drum and electronics, sounded like a drumline solo on crack. It was a lucid piece until it veered sharply to the left, expanding into new rhythmic territory. It was technically interesting to hear and contemplate, but not necessarily what the audience was expecting.

Some audience members, generally not fans of cutting edge classical music, need a clear, concise warning about the contents of a concert. These are the same people who need to be told to stifle their conversations while the orchestra plays (the plebes kept chatting anyway). The riffraff aside, it was a pleasant concert full of unexpected surprises and delicious cider. The next dates of the Original Gravity series haven’t yet been planned but they will be worth checking out.

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