Ensemble ACJW challenges classical cliches

Posted by Kara Clark

Composers don't wear fire engine red glasses. Nor do they wear skinny jeans. And they definitely don't own iPhones. Or do they? Ensemble ACJW's concert at the Arthur Zankel Music Center on Oct. 8 erased many clichés about classical composition and performance.

The ensemble attracted a lot of attendees, filling the concert hall for the evening. The newly formed group is the brainchild of the Julliard School, Carnegie Hall, the Weill Music Institute and New York City's Department of Education.

The ensemble's goal is to take up residencies in schools and universities, giving its young adult members the opportunity to share their passion and knowledge for classical music.

This could have the potential to be cheesy or forced, but ACJW gives off a different vibe.

They're young, engaging and even current. Composer Timothy "Timo" Andres is a full-fledged hipster from Brooklyn (he owns the red glasses, skinny jeans and iPhone).

This concert marked the premiere of Andres' piece "Trade Winds," and it propelled the concert out of the starting gate, while simultaneously proving Andre's work is just as unconventional as he is in the world of classical music.

The elements that make up Andres' "Trade Winds" are an irregular combination. The piece consists of the typical violin, viola, cello and piano, but there is also a clarinet, a marimba and an odd percussion board made up of a teacup, two gongs and metal objects, which Andres refers to as "The Junk Table."

The string instruments and the clarinet have a sweeping, wind-like quality, anchored in the room by the haunting and sensitive piano, played by Marina Radiushina. The sound seems to rise, not in pitch but in spirit, until an unexpected note is hit.

Overall, the song has an ebb and flow to it, reminiscent of a natural element like wind or water. This isn't just Apollonian music that's academic or intricate to an appreciative, well-trained ear. The piece is accessible while still maintaining an intelligent and atypical quality.

Although the rest of the group was not as vibrantly dressed as Andres, they made up for it in energy and attitude, bringing established classical pieces new life.

During their performance of Brahms' "String Sextet in B-Flat Minor, Op. 18," the musicians' vigor accentuated the first movement, the fast paced yet elegant "Allegro."?

They also gave the second movement, the "Andante," a subtle energy unique to the performance. The two final movements of the piece, the "Scherzo" and the "Rondo," were completed with a zesty flavor.

Schubert's "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen" was also performed in an unexpected manner. The ensembles' clarinetist, Paul Won Jin Cho, didn't just remain stationary as he played his instrument, he moved. He bent his knees in a circular motion, matching the phrasing, like a snake charmer.

The guest soprano, Jessica Rivera, provided a theatrical rendition of the song that was surprisingly unforced.

A panel discussion preceded the concert, giving the members of the ensemble a chance to answer questions and subtly flaunt their talent and charisma.

During the panel discussion, many of the ensembles' members revealed that they began their music education at an early age. The group's cellist started experimenting with string instruments around age five.

The panel discussion also gave Andres a chance to provide insight into his piece and the creative process. The young composer explained that his creative approach was atypical in nature. Many writers lay out concrete parts one by one, while Andres has a system similar to stream of consciousness.

Not only that, but aspects of his work will constantly change until completion. The instrumentation for the piece wasn't even final until a week before rehearsal.

The commissioners of the piece wanted to change the woodwind part from flute to clarinet, and Andres explained that's where the name "Trade Winds" comes from.

Ensemble ACJW brought its audience a fresh outlook on Classical music. There could be a place for it in the iTunes Libraries of the young.

Who knows, with ACJW touring schools, a kid or two might want to play the cello instead of the electric guitar.

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