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24-Hour Arty People

24hc, Peabody Institute’s Cohen-Davidson Family Theater, Feb. 20

By Josephine Yun | Posted 3/16/2005

At around 2 a.m. on a recent Sunday, three composers met in a Peabody Conservatory hallway. Kevin Clark wanted a sandwich. Andy Cole wished he had a pianist. And George Lam needed a second movement.

“I got your second movement,” Cole says to Lam. He walked into a padded room and played a dissonant swirl on a digital piano. They were all on break from 24hc, a new event at Peabody fueled by its composition and computer-music departments.

Inspired by 24-hour theater, where scripts are written, learned, and staged in 24 hours, 24hc sounds straightforward. Get composers, get musicians. Each composer writes a piece of music in 12 hours; musicians learn the music over the next 12 hours. Stage a concert.

Everyone started from scratch, and the setups were random. Two rounds of drawing from a hat decided the allotment of musicians per composer and what instruments they came with, making preconceived ideas—which are against the rules—somewhat useless.

“It’s a challenge to us,” said composer and 24hc artistic director Sam Burt, a lean guy with a ponytail. “My music’s very focused on working around the instruments that I have and what I can get out of them, so there’s no way I could start ahead.”

As for the musicians, they had to learn the notes, play together, channel the music—and satisfy the composers. “I’m used to my own expression, the way I want it to be,” said Joel Grip, a double bass player Burt recruited. “And this, I’m going to have to play the exact way they want it to be. That’s a little bit more difficult.”

After meeting their groups at 8 p.m. Saturday night, seven composers began writing for 23 musicians. Cole had drawn a “nightmare” trio of soprano, alto saxophone, and violin. Cory Kasprzyk had just flown back from Minnesota. Clark—working with clarinet, saxophone, viola, and Grip’s double bass—emptied the coffee dispenser at 2:25 a.m. And Chris Gainey had to work the next day.

At 8 a.m. Sunday morning, performers received their music. (“This is the worst thing that you’ll ever play in your life,” Kasprzyk says.) Some split to practice their parts individually; others started in together in preparation for 5 p.m dress rehearsals.

Just after 8 p.m. Sunday night, 24hc culminated with its concert. Kasprzyk’s for, which breezed in with airy saxophone and clarinet, subbed a black drinking straw for a violin bow and revolved hugely into a piercing siren, full of wind, height, and velocity.

Gainey’s Three Moods began with a pianist reaching inside the piano to hit low, sustained strings and knock on wood, plucking the strings to complement acrid splashes of guitar; a soprano entered later, high and hoarse, accompanied by sweet guitar and dark, petulant piano.

In Cole’s 2 From Yeats (set to texts by W.B. Yeats), the saxophone amplified and spoke for the violin before they traded dialogues; the soprano gave the trio words.

And Burt’s Better Luck ( . . . With Government) opened with smart trumpet before braiding violin and flute together gracefully, breathing in phrases with rich, full soprano. Just under an hour long, 24hc was beautiful, fresh, and unexpected all at once. And it makes you think music should be written/performed in one fell swoop more often.

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