Boston has its fair share of contemporary music ensembles and new music concert presenters, but few organizations offer the diversity of activity that Equilibrium Concert Series has planned for this spring. Only in its second season, EQ has hosted a handful of performing groups from out of town, featured an eclectic bunch of local experimental musicians, initiated multimedia arts collaborations, programmed dozens of new works by local composers, and has now assembled a resident chamber ensemble. I sat down with EQ directors Mischa Salkind-Pearl and Zoe Kemmerling to talk about what their organization has done (and hopes to do) in the Boston new music scene, and to hear about a very exciting set of upcoming events.
Initially a group of Boston Conservatory graduates, Equilibrium began as a concert-giving platform for its members and acquainted musicians. “We wanted to contribute something valuable to the Boston music community. Focusing on musicians and composers with local connections helps to strengthen the existing scene here” says Mischa. “We don’t have a driving aesthetic approach—our mission is oriented around how our music and our musicians fit into the community.” Zoe adds that “the process of making and performing music is in the end a social undertaking. Music needs space, an occasion, an audience to happen. We have a huge pool of talent and enthusiasm in this city, both from composers and performers, and we need to give these artists as many chances as possible to collaborate, to feed off one another’s energy and bring new works to life.”
The mission of EQ is a broad one. In March, they’re hosting the New York City-based Iktus Percussion Quartet this very Saturday, March 16th, at Boston Conservatory. The ensemble was excited about coming to Boston to perform, and also about adding to their repertoire, so they’re using the opportunity to present a program consisting largely of Boston-based composers. They’ll also be hosting a presentation of the homemade electronic instruments that are a specialty of Levy Lorenzo, a NYC composer who will also make an appearance on the program. EQ is also working on a series of concerts based on the works of the late Boston-based painter Hyman Bloom. Their first season featured two concerts at the Alpha Gallery on Newbury Street, performed amid the first posthumous exhibition of Bloom’s work, and they plan to continue presenting events as part of this unique collaboration.
Perhaps the biggest upcoming venture features members of the Equilibrium Ensemble, a core group of players who have been collaborating since EQ’s inception. They will perform new chamber works by Chaya Czernowin, Marti Epstein, and Yu-Hui Chang on March 30th. In discussing upcoming composer collaborations, Zoe noted that “they’re all established local composers with dynamic careers, but they’re enthusiastic about working with us during the rehearsal process.” EQ Ensemble members will perform again with local soprano Aliana de la Guardia on April 27th, in a program featuring works by EQ co-founder Masaki Hasebe and MIT professor Keeril Makan. There’s also a concert featuring Boston-based ensemble Modern Brass on May 3rd, involving a slew of brass quintets by recent and contemporary composers (including yours truly). Yes, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge, but one of the striking things about EQ is their willingness to take risks, to include any and all contemporary styles and genres that they think might appeal to their audience. “People who don’t normally attend contemporary or even classical music concerts at all might really enjoy what we do—we want to make them feel welcome,” says Mischa. He, Zoe, and the other EQ organizers don’t have an aesthetic agenda beyond quality, diversity, and thought provocation—though they do have a mission of local advocacy.
Case in point: the inaugural concert of EQ’s spring season, and the first of a planned “Composer on Stage” series, took place on February 17th at the Lily Pad in Inman Square, and featured the music of Clifton Ingram, a composer and guitarist. Joined by bassist Max Judelson, Ingram performed semi-structured improvisatory music influenced by classical and jazz, which included prepared guitar, experimental techniques, and electronics. “Those of us who hadn’t heard Cliff play before really had no idea of what to expect, but people were extremely receptive,” says Zoe, “and in the end it was a really great afternoon—a lot of musical communication, a lot of new sounds mixed with the more familiar aspects of chamber music.”
But aren’t the struggles facing a young start-up organization like EQ monumental? The health of music in society is hotly debated these days. Mischa sums up his views like this: “We don’t want to be seen as competing with the many other groups that make up the vibrant new music scene in town. It’s not a competition—it’s just about presenting good music. However, it can be difficult to attract new audiences, which is something that we very much want to do. In an effort to bring people in, we try to keep as many concerts free or as cheap as possible. Bringing new audiences in is one struggle; surviving financially and logistically are others.” Zoe has another take on the survival-of-the-arts challenge: “society is changing, communication is changing, art is changing—basically, it’s a brave new world for people like us. Will a project like this work? Who knows? It’s up to the people around us—music lovers, acquaintances, people who are just curious about all the kinds of music that are out there. We want to be welcoming.”
More information about Equilibrium’s season, happenings, and goals can be found here.