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Classical 101

Johnstones Launch New Music Series in Goodale Park

Next Wednesday, Goodale Park Shelter House will be filled with the sound of music. Under the auspices of Jack and Zoe Johnstone, creators of the Johnstone Fund for New Music at the Columbus Foundation, the Carpe Diem String Quartet and the Ohio State University New Music Collective will perform a one-hour concert of twentieth- and twenty-first-century music for mixed chamber ensembles May 26, at 7 p.m. After the concert, audience members can chat with the performers and some of the composers represented on the program at an ice cream social, with complimentary Jeni's Spendid Ice Creams. Tom Wells, director of the OSU New Music Collective, says the music on the program offers something for everyone. "The music is pretty accessible, but it's also challenging and very, very exciting," Wells said. "There's a lot of physicality to a lot of the pieces. But then we counterbalance those with some slow and meditative pieces." So to counterbalance the intensity of David Lang's Press Release for solo bass clarinet, a work Zoe Johnstone calls "hair-raising," you'll also hear Evan Ziporyn's minimalist Be-In for string quartet and bass clarinet. And you'll have a chance to hear a survey across the spectrum of "new music," from Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question (1906) to music penned in different styles mere months ago. Wells says today's new music is a different ballgame from the new music of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, when many shied away from its abstractions and dissonances. "A lot of that music didn't have any sort of pattern that people could follow,' Wells said. "Now, since 20 years ago or so, it's okay to write music that has some sort of rhythmic interest. Most everything that we're doing on the shelter house program has something that people can relate to." In funding the concert, the Johnstones say they hope to help move new music, which has been most at home in college and university composition departments, out of the ivory tower and into the community. They also say the once dissonance-shy public now craves opportunities to hear new music performed live. "We talk to a lot of people about this kind of music, and (their feedback) is universally positive," Jack Johnstone said. "It's excitement about this kind of music that we hear. People like live art. They'll show up for stuff that is a little bit out of the ordinary for them. I think it's a question of figuring out how to get the audience together." The Johnstones suspect the audience for live new music in Columbus will be a young crowd, and they're trying to reach that audience through social networking media. You won't see brochures, newspaper ads or posters announcing the event. Instead, the Johnstones, the performers and their friends will put the word out about the concert on Facebook. The widespread use of social networking media among younger demographics is but one of the lifestyle differences between younger people and their elders. Zoe Johnstone says traditional concert formats no longer accommodate the lives of younger listeners. "The old-fashioned symphony orchestra does not connect to how young people live today," Zoe Johnstone said. "They're not as likely to go sit in a theater for three hours as they would go out and be with their friends at something for an hour. So those people that can't go sit for three hours aren't being given a program, so to speak. I just think that's how it is. And it needs to change." The May 26 New Music in Goodale Park concert might just be a step in that direction, and so might an entire Goodale Park new music concert series. If a series materializes, the Johnstones say it will coalesce one concert at a time, as musicians approach them with ideas for good concert programs. "Various people have come to us and said, 'Can we participate in this?' Absolutely," Jack Johnstone said. "What we care about is the people that have the ideas. So if a percussion ensemble comes to us and says, 'I'd really like to do a program in Goodale Park,' it's like, 'Great. When? What's the program look like? How many people? We'll make it happen.'" As with the May 26 concert, word of each future concert will be spread on Facebook, which the Johnstones hope will reach a Columbus new music audience that has lacked a consistent non-academic outlet or forum. "We're trying to tap into the new music network in Columbus. This is not something we're creating out of whole cloth, it's out there. The musicians are out there, the interest, the audience is all out there. We're just trying to focus it." Jack and Zoe Johnstone say they're ready to hear the next great ideas for new music concerts and to fund quality projects with momentum behind them. "We fund energy. If you bring us energy and a good idea, it will happen," Zoe Johnstone said. "And this is definitely going to be a happening." - Jennifer Hambrick