New Music out of Whole Cloth: Innovative Duo Transient Canvas Performs in Columbus Nov. 11
Hear Transient Canvas on The American Sound, 6 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Tuesday on Classical 101.
In the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, the character Gil Pender – a self-described "Hollywood hack" – finds himself repeatedly time warped back to the Paris of the distant past each night as the bells toll midnight. The episodes unite Gil with his literary heroes, some of the great writers of the past – Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald – and force him to confront how his nostalgia for a bygone "golden age" stymies progress on the novel he’s trying to write.
Wednesday evening there will be no denying the power of the past to shape the present and, indeed, the future of art when the trailblazing Boston-based marimba-bass clarinet duo Transient Canvas brings two central Ohio musicians back to their roots while beaming head-on into the future with cutting-edge music.
Comprised of Marion native and marimbist Matt Sharrock and bass clarinetist Amy Advocat, Transient Canvas will perform "Nostalgia," a free concert featuring the Nostalgia Variations by Columbus-born composer Adam Roberts and other new works composed specifically for the ensemble by Tina Tallon, Curtis Hughes and Marti Epstein, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Short North's Garden Theater. The concert is part of the New Music at Short North Stage concert series and is presented by the Johnstone Fund for New Music. A cocktail hour will begin at 6 p.m. at the Garden Theater's lounge, Ethel's Bar.
For Sharrock and Roberts the Nov. 11 performance promises to live up to its name. It will mark Sharrock's first central Ohio performance in more than a decade, and will be the first Columbus performance of Roberts' music in fifteen years.
But there will be no wallowing in the past. As Transient Canvas nears the commission of its fiftieth new work for their instrumentation, the artists' trek into "Nostalgia" will bring them and their audience to nothing less than the intersection of the past and the future in art.
Blank Slate on Wheels
"We think of ourselves as a service for composers," Sharrock said of Transient Canvas in a recent phone interview. "We're a set ensemble that is not common, so we're sort of a blank page or a canvas for composers to work with."
When Sharrock and Advocat were forming Transient Canvas in Boston in 2011, there was almost no music for marimba and bass clarinet duo. At first, they read through the handful of works that did exist for the combination, and also transcriptions of classical keyboard works. But they knew that they would need to create a repertoire along with their ensemble if the duo were to have a future.
So they started asking composers around Boston to write works for them. Sharrock says the fact that there is still so little original music for marimba-bass clarinet duo liberates composers from the burden of tradition, setting them free to innovate.
"When you write a piano sonata, or when you write a string quartet, you're just weighed down by the history of pieces written for that combination. But since we're very fresh and relatively unheard of, and because we specifically only use marimba and bass clarinet, it gives (composers) a very exciting new thing to work with," Sharrock said.
Now, Transient Canvas has given the world premieres of dozens of new works for their instrumentation in Boston and throughout the U.S.
"The 'transient' part is that we can travel," Sharrock said. "While the marimba is big – it's, like, eight feet long – it breaks down into cases, and we can take it easily in a Honda Civic or even a Prius."
With all that travel, Transient Canvas takes cutting-edge music to audiences throughout the U.S.
"We think of it as a very large musical conversation that we're engaging (in) across the country," Advocat said. "It's really important for many composers in lots of different musical locales because they do have this barrier where their cities end. And so we're just really excited to be able to share so much music all over the place."
"Our Most Beautiful Piece"
Sharrock and Advocat began their conversation with New York-based composer Adam Roberts in 2013, when they commissioned from him what would become his Nostalgia Variations.
That same year also saw Roberts, who received his doctorate in composition from Harvard University in 2010, in the midst of some soul-searching about the relevance of the means of expressiveness in the music of the past to the artist's mandate to create something new.
"I felt that there had been certain aspects of music making which I had exiled from my music making, or had not allowed into my music making, that I really wanted to let in," Roberts said. "And one of them was writing a very simple, poignant, beautiful tune."
Roberts says he began his Nostalgia Variations with a beautiful melody in an effort to reclaim a part of his musical past that trends in cutting-edge music had pushed out of his creative mindset.
"I was reconnecting to a sense of making music where you simply feel something and you hear it and you're moved by it and then you put it on paper. I would say there was more of a yearning for a past way of relating to music, where it was more direct. So in a way, writing the opening (melody) for this piece was the scariest and most vulnerable creative aspect of writing this work, but I felt it was very important to do that," Roberts said.
The result is a work Sharrock calls "epic" and "astounding," and that Advocat says values the beauty of melodies and timbres alongside more intellectual aspects of construction.
"It's our most beautiful piece, I think," Advocat said.
Back to the Future
At the end of Midnight in Paris, Gil Pender realizes that his artistic future can happen not by living in the chimerical good old days, but by filtering the wisdom of the past through the creative lens of the present, filled with the scariness and vulnerability of innovation, maybe, but without the pain of endlessly lamenting what's gone.
When Sharrock and Roberts return to Columbus Nov. 11, they'll show how their work with Transient Canvas is transforming their nostalgia for their central Ohio roots into music and performances on the cutting edge.
"It's really nostalgic to come back to Columbus. Both of us became people in Ohio," Sharrock said, laughing, "and it's just going to be really awesome to come back and share what we’ve done after we left (central Ohio) with people back home."
Transient Canvas performs "Nostalgia," a free concert featuring Columbus-born composer Adam Robertss Nostalgia Variations and works by Tina Tallon, Curtis Hughes and Marti Epstein, Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Short North’s Garden Theater, 1187 North High Street, Columbus. A cocktail hour will begin at 6 p.m. at the Garden Theater’s Ethel’s Bar.