When Music is Missing... The Percussion works of Stuart Saunders Smith

On March 4th, NMC is proud to present an evening of engaging percussion music with guest composer Stuart Saunders Smith in attendance. The program will feature pieces involving percussion, theater, and text performed by internationally renowned percussionists Sylvia Smith and Ayano Kataoka as well as chamber music performed by local musicians Michelle Schumann, piano; Callie Shelton, flute; and Nick Hennies, xylophone & percussion. As a testament to the contributions of women to new music, women performers will outnumber men four to one on this program.

The Sylvia Smith Percussion Duo will perform pieces incorporating percussion, text, and theater including "...And Points North" - a percussion "opera" in three scenes which tells the story of a Native American in search of her soul. Smith is known for using unconventional objects as percussion instruments. "...And Points North" features the sounds of trees, rocks, logs, metal pipes and buckets, and cast-off urban trash. "I don't even use low tech. I work with junk - cultural castoffs - to make enjoyable music, very rich in its poverty of means. Too often composers think that by focusing on so-called sophisticated materials and machines sophisticated art will automatically result." Said Stuart Smith, "The materials of art do not matter. The imagination of the composer is the only compositional technology."

A portion of the program also showcases Stuart Saunders Smith's less theatrical side. Local percussionist Nick Hennies will perform two recent works for solo drum set "Brush" and "Two Lights" that exemplify Smith's "melodic" style of writing for so-called "non-pitched" instruments. In an interview, Smith said that, "In my drum set music, time is released to freely roam the many highways of time simultaneously. There's no such thing as non-pitched percussion. All percussion instruments have pitches; often whole bandwidths of pitches, but pitches nonetheless." "Brush" and "Two Lights" are two of the best examples of Smith's elegant melodic sense; they are intricate pieces, yet they sound fluid and free to the ear.

Hennies will also perform alongside pianist Michelle Schumann and flautist Callie Shelton in a trio entitled "Gifts" which was created using a different kind of fluidity. Composed early in his career (1974), "Gifts" is the quintessential example of what Smith calls a "musical mobile". Each performance of "Gifts" is different but the end result is always the same. This could be compared to the dynamic nature of Alexander Calder's sculptural mobiles. The performers are asked to freely choose their own order of events from the written page based on a small set of rules and limitations. Stuart Smith, "conceived of the piece as a pool of water... the pool never changes but the water always does." Due to their constant redefinition, the pieces resist memory and in turn extend their lives as exciting and vital compositions.

"I am most alive when I'm just a little bit confused. When things are forming. When things are in a state of becoming." says Smith, "So I'm trying to make a music which does that for as long as it can, and then it dies."

Considering himself first and foremost a jazz composer, Stuart Saunders Smith has been composing contrapuntal, polyphonic music in a highly focused and refined way to create a music informed by not only jazz but also 20th century avant-garde music, sound-poetry, and American folk song. Romantic yet experimental, his music is rooted in tradition yet created with entirely new means.