On May 12th I had a great opportunity to attend a “contemporary” concert in Boston. Existential Pilot was capping off its spring tour with a concert at First Church in Boston and I received an invitation to attend.
I have to begin by saying that I’m not a music critic; I leave that to the professionals. But, I do love the musical journey and I endeavor to become exposed to as much music as I can. Each concert educates me, and in turn I share my experiences with the hope that others may also feel inspired to enjoy and support the Arts and artists as well.
“Contemporary music”. Sounds interesting, kind of scary. Some people hear the word contemporary and they go running for Beethoven or Mozart. But I’ve been to a half dozen “contemporary” concerts now and I’ve learned a great deal from each one. I’ve discovered that there are some types of sounds that are really in the ear of the composer, and then there are others that should be in the ears of the patrons. Existential Pilot belongs in the latter category.
When I first heard the name of the group, I wondered, what does that mean? For its meaning, tune in to the YouTube clip below to hear William Zuckerman’s thoughts behind the name. Your name defines you, and clearly Zuckerman had a vision when he came up with the name. I’d argue with the thought that they are a pilot though, because while Existential Pilot may be a contemporary, new group of young musicians, they have focus, definition and have a lot to offer. While they may consider themselves experimental, I don’t at all.
Existential Pilot has six musicians: William Zuckerman, Ezra Donner and Jonathan Lubin are each composers and pianists, Claire DiVizio is a soprano, Zoë Aqua is a violinist and Mark Dover is a clarinetist. Having a soprano as part of the group is interesting. It shows the versatility of the group as well as its creative ability to develop programs outside of the more traditional combination of instruments.
The first piece on the program was called This is the Garden with Donner and DiVizio, composed by Lubin. The text comes from a poem by E. E . Cummings and is sung by DiVizio. [You can view a clip of this on Existential Pilot’s Facebook page.] I really enjoyed DiVizio’s rich voice. I’ve never heard a piece like this, so it was new and different.
Ezra Donner, an award-winning composer, next performed his Sonata No. 1 for Piano, which I liked a lot. The third movement, Rapid, was particularly powerful and I was struck by how abruptly the piece ended. This piece, as well as Donner’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, another piano/vocal piece on the program, can be seen and heard here.
My interest in Zuckerman was really piqued when I heard Sinuous Rills. In 2009, Zuckerman won the New York Art Ensemble Young Composer Competition, and I can hear why. Sinuous Rills, a trio for clarinet, violin and piano, is “inspired and guided by the natural flow of water”. I loved this piece and its exploratory use of the instruments. To me it sounded very mature and very complete and it’s a solid piece of work from a composer who is already making his mark.
Similarly, I felt a great affection for excerpts from Zuckerman’s Music in Pluralism. Both excerpts performed, Act of Contrition and By the Way, can be heard on Existential Pilot’s Web site under “Listen”. Act of Contrition was very hypnotic and it was easy to get lost in thought. By the Way, performed by Donner and Aqua, was for me contemplative, a bit sorrowful, and at times filled with secrecy. Such an interesting piece. Music in Pluralism is Zuckerman’s upcoming album and he says,
“The word pluralism is not so much a comment on the genre of the piece as much as it is on the process of the piece, where one movement creates a distinct character and sound, only to be sharply juxtaposed with another movement of another character and sound, blending cohesively together by means of a consistent harmonic language and subtle motivic connection.”
The final piece of the concert was Donner’s Sonata Judaica. This composition was both written for and featured Mark Dover on clarinet. Sonata Judaica was inspired by a variety of musicians, including Aaron Copland, Al Jolson, George Gershwin, and Benny Goodman. It was at times fun and uplifting and it showcased the clarinet in ways you wouldn’t normally hear.
I really enjoyed this concert. I didn’t know what to expect but was excited to be invited. The artists are each very talented, and as a group present a program of variety. Some pieces I liked more than others, but I have a great admiration for what each artist brings to the program.
When I attend a concert, it’s my goal to gain an appreciation for the music and the musicians, and I certainly did that with Existential Pilot. I enjoyed hearing new works from these young, talented artists, and I hope to hear more from them in the future.
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