Standing still and a lust for bass at The Dairy

One Night Only concert features ‘Alive’ new music

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The Black Diamond Quartet will get their hands dirty, so to speak, as they play The Mechanics: Six from the Shop Floor.
Courtesy of The Dairy Arts Center

The clarinetist says the hardest part is standing still. The violinist also plays the piano because she has a “lust for bass.”

It should be an interesting concert.

Saturday, March 4, the Dairy Arts Center will present “Alive,” a program of new music as part of its One Night Only concert series. The program will feature two world premieres, as well as the regional premiere of The Mechanics: Six from the Shop Floor for saxophone quartet by CU music professor Carter Pann, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2016.

“Alive” is the first of six One Night Only concerts scheduled for the spring. Those and other upcoming performances are listed on the Dairy Center website (thedairy.org).

The Mechanics, performed by the Black Diamond Quartet, will close the program. Pann’s suite of six short movements was written for the Capitol Quartet, a group that Pann heard when they played on tour at Grusin Hall on the CU campus.

“I was so blown away by their virtuosity and their artistry that I did something that I don’t think I’ve ever done before,” Pann says. “I ran backstage after the concert because I wanted to be the first one there. And I said, ‘Look guys, I’ve got to a write a piece for you!’”

Pann received a commission for the piece, but at first he didn’t know what he would write. “They had no idea I would write six movements,” Pann says. “I didn’t know I would either! Nor did I know the subject of the piece until I actually sat down and wrote it.”

The movement titles refer to objects that would be found in an auto shop: “Hoist,” “Drive Train,” “Belt,” “Flywheel,” “Balance” and “Trash.”

Pann pictured the four saxophonists sitting in an old-fashioned auto shop. “It has hydraulic lifts, it’s got all the tools you want, it’s got repairmen,” he says. “That’s where I came up with The Mechanics as the title.”

Each movement is descriptive. For example, Pann’s program notes describe “Hoist” as “bold music that lifts itself upward and never falls down,” and “Dive Train” as “fast music … almost always driving forward,” and so forth.

The “Alive” program opens with Serenity Diptych, a multi-media work for violin, tape and still images by Lithuanian composer Ziboukle Martinaityte. It was composed for violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, who will perform with photographic and video imagery by Philip VanKeuren.

Pollick lives in Evergreen and has recently given several performances in Boulder. She seems to have limitless energy for the promotion of new works. ”The definition of sanity for me is to make art,” she says.

Serenity Diptych is part of an ongoing project of multi-media works, Violin, Viola and Video Virtuosity. “The score is in two parts,” she explains. “The first one is aspirational. Her imagery is climbing a mountain. And the second half would be obtaining altitude and looking down from a vista. From that point I’m playing sustained harmonies and responding to the sonorities of the tape.”

After Serenity Diptych, Pollick switches to piano to play the world premiere of the Andante for Contrabassoon and Piano by Russian composer Ivan Sokolov, with contrabassoonist Michael Christoph of the Boulder Bassoon Quartet. Pollick thought a piece for contrabassoon might be comical, but was “surprised when it came out to be this very beautiful Andante,” she says.

“With violinists’ ears, it’s a joy to be working in this huge expanded range [of the piano]. There are times when I’m playing the same pitch or a half-step part from the contrabassoon, in the extreme range of the piano. These are very low rumblings, and it’s very intense.

“I love to play the bass. I lust for bass in my life!”

The program’s second world premiere will be Danse for solo clarinet by Dirk-Michael Kirsch, performed by Deborah Marshall. Originally written for oboe, the Danse has been realized for clarinet by Marshall. The score is full of difficult “extended techniques,” including glissandos and multiphonics (sounding two pitches at once).

It even has the clarinetist wearing bells on her ankles to be sounded in the final portion of the piece — which is why she has to stand perfectly still before the bells are called for. “I have practiced that almost the most!” she says. “Just to stand still.”

Not that the rest of it is easy. “It’s one of those pieces where you have to risk everything,” Marshall says. “I call it the 3,000-calorie piece. I think if people sense that excitement, if I can bring it off, they’ll go crazy!”

Also on the eclectic program are Etudes for Piano by David Rakowski, played by Amy Briggs; Briggs and Pann playing the Study No. 6 for player piano by Conlon Nancarrow; and the Boulder Bassoon Quartet accompanying ALT, a short film starring Abby Brammell.

On the Bill: One Night Only: ‘Alive.’ New Music at the Dairy. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 4. Gordon Gamm Theater, The Dairy Arts Center, Boulder. Tickets: 303-444-7328 or tickets.thedairy.org/Online/mapSelect.asp.