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Master(ful) Class in Electroacoustic Music


“Sound in Space Festival: The Art of Interpretation of Electroacoustic Music” at the Fenway Center in Boston began at 4 pm, Thursday, November 17 with “Interpretation Workshop 1.”You might think it not your cup of tea? I had my misgivings as well.

While it might not have been the most entertaining time, it certainly was one of the most interesting if not illuminating — even surprising — times that I can recall ever listening to loudspeakers making music. They did that, and more. This was not a “workshop,” I thought as I listened, but a master class. For nearly two hours, Harvard University Professor Hans Tutschku guided three young budding composers through their compositions working not at a piano with its keys, as Lang Lang did several weeks ago at Sanders Theatre, but at a console with its numerous faders.

Over the past year, Sound in Space held a competition for composers enrolled in U. S. institutions; it drew some forty-five submissions. The six finalists, three from the University of Montreal, two from the University of Florida, and one from Concordia University, were given this opportunity to participate in workshops and to present — perform — their music in concert..

Thursday afternoon, three of these finalists, Chester Udell, Adam Basanta, and Martin Bédard, alternately sat at the console placed in the center of a space that was formerly the sanctuary of a church. As with Lang Lang’s master class, Tutschku would take to the console to demonstrate how, by his moving its many faders, he could interpret a finalist’s composition. Akin to a conductor, Tutschku directed “carloads” of speakers set up all about the space. This he called his “orchestra.”

In existence for six years, the “Harvard University ‘Hydra’ Speaker-Orchestra” has already attained international prominence through its presence in concerts, especially abroad, Germany and France in particular. However, this speaker orchestra and its performance capabilities remains new to U.S. audiences. “With a large number of speakers (at least 32-40) specially placed and adjusted to fit the space, a new and live dramatic spatial sound choreography can be interpreted for each concert hall.” It becomes clearer that Sound and Space’s festival of electroacoustic music “places its main emphasis on the question of interpretation.”

Believe it or not, what held true for the superstar Lang Lang at his piano master class seemed to be not all that different at Tutschku’s so-called “workshop.” Expecting to be confused over one technological matter after another or one philosophical and esthetic dogma after another, I was surprised to find quite the opposite: a masterful and completely understandable demonstration given by composer and Harvard Professor Tutschku. Truly, it was a master class in interpretation that was unbelievably instructive and fascinating all at once. We learned through our ears!

There is another master class scheduled for 4:00, Friday, November 18 in the same new space, 77 St. Stephen Street in Boston. If you are not at work — or if you can escape for a few hours — I urge you to attend. Anyone who is the least bit curious about how a console with a host of faders and some thirty-two loudspeakers can make music will find answers that will illuminate, if not surprise — a welcome surprise. Attending any part of this festival, I predict, will further illustrate how the distance between this way of making music today and the traditional ways of making music over centuries will prove to be narrower than one would at first imagine.

Here is the remaining schedule:
Friday, November 18, 2011
4:00 PM Interpretation Workshop 2
7:30 PM Competition Finalists Concert 2
9:00 PM Portrait Concert – Ludger Brümmer

Saturday, November 19, 2011
4:00 PM Panel Discussion with invited composers
6:00 PM Curated concert of important electroacoustic works from North America
7:30 PM Bus to Goethe-Institut Boston, 170 Beacon Street, Boston
8:00 PM Reception and Composition Competition Awards Ceremony in Goethe-Institut

The festival is made possible by the Goethe-Institut Boston, the Cultural Services of the French Consulate Boston, Harvard University, and Northeastern University and is supported by the Elysée Treaty Fund for Franco-German Cultural Events in Third Countries.


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