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Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009

Ready for Your Close-Up?

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"Present Music is known for building big concerts and big audiences," says Managing Director Eric Lind. Past concerts have been held at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World, Turner Hall and even the zoo. But for its next concert, titled Close Up, the ensemble seeks to replace largeness with intimacy. "I want to try something that really focuses on listening and the virtuosity of our players. Rather than one big event, let's spread it over two nights in order to give the audience a closer feel to both the music and the musicians," Artistic Director Kevin Stalheim states. To this end he's put together a concert at a smaller venue, the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center (325 W. Walnut St.), which Stalheim describes as "a really great space that not everyone has experienced."

Though Present Music has hosted numerous leading guest artists from the contemporary art music scene, this event looks inward toward its very own core of talented musicians: Karl Lavine, principal cellist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; clarinetist William Helmers, a founding member of Present Music, active chamber musician and clarinetist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; pianist Phillip Bush, who makes his way to Milwaukee from North Carolina several times a year to perform with the ensemble; violinist, composer and arranger Eric Segnitz, another of Present Music's charter members; and Greg Flint, assistant professor of horn at UW-Milwaukee. "The music Stalheim has selected for this concert includes a surprising range of modern duos and trios to display his equally wide-ranging group of musicians," Lind says.

Estonia's Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) adopted something of a minimalist style after neo-Baroque, neo-Classical and serial compositions. Present Music performs Pärt's Passacaglia for Violin and Piano (2003). London-born composer, pianist and conductor Thomas Adès (b. 1971) achieved critical acclaim for his opera The Tempest after its 2004 premiere. The program will include Adès' Court Studies, a single-movement work for clarinet, violin, cello and piano that canvases (in music) the leading figures of Shakespeare's famous play. Jordanian composer Saed Haddad (b. 1972) has written numerous orchestral and chamber works, of which Present Music performs Le Contredésir (2004), which, as Lind describes, "makes no attempt to be 'modern'" with its "intervals, rhythms and phrases more familiar to Arabic and Hebrew music-making…embedded in [a] Western European context." New York City native Charles Wuorinen (b. 1938), a prolific composer of mostly serial instrumental music and in 1970 the youngest winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Music, composed his Horn Trio in 1981, which is also on the program. Kevin Stalheim joins the ensemble on the tin whistle for Henry Brant's (1913-2008) Marx Brothers, and Jenny Gettel lends her voice to the short play Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread by David Ives (b. 1950). The "sound-text play" imitates Glass' trademark minimalist compositional style, but in this case words, phrases and ideas are set in repetitive motion.

Close Up takes place at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center on Jan. 9 and 10, 7:30 p.m.