I was mildly curious about the concept for this New Gallery Concert Series. From what I read originally, this performance was going to be a mix of visual and musical artists. In my free time I have a hobby of making playlists that coincide with visualizers for the purpose of making a guided means of day dreaming; so a performance with this description piqued my curiosity. Having seen the show, I feel that I can say with absolute certainty that the performance was good, but felt like mishmash more often than I would have liked.
Founded after the turn of the new millennium, the New Gallery Concert Series is a musical outfit dedicated to the purpose of performing compositions and featuring visual artists that are among the living. An interesting purpose, especially in the realms of musical and visual art; where the greats are still lauded many centuries after they became one with the earth. In practice, I have a feeling that this focus had yielded a mixed bag over their 17 years. The greats have laid the groundwork, but the NGCS aims to feature the new and experimental in their performances.
The series’ performers consisted of a trio of musicians and one visual artist: Sarah Bob, the project founder and pianist; Nate Wooly, a well-known trumpet player from Brooklyn; Aaron Trant, percussionist and composer; and Peter Happel Christian, a photographer and visual artist.
The performance put on by the three musicians definitely put their skills on display. The pieces’ experimental nature puts on pressure for accurate note playing, and I feel that Sarah Bob’s performance on the piano definitely showed the most proficiency. I feel that it is incredibly difficult to take an experimental composition and play it well enough that it does sound experimental, rather than a mess.
Credit for skill aside, the selections focusing on the piano are the main reason I developed the mixed bag hypothesis for the Series’ legacy. The piece, “Aquarius *12*” and the collection of piano preludes were the better pieces for the piano of the program. In contrast, “Avoidance Tactics #1” was a purposely disjointed piece that I felt captured accurately the feeling of a freeform jam session. At one part of the piece, the pianist slammed their arm on the keyboard commonly. From what Sarah told the audience, the piece was made by the composer to purposely avoid the teachings of his maddening music professor. It certainly sounded like it fulfilled this intention, but that doesn’t mean that it was pleasant for the ears.
My personal highlights of the performance were the trumpet and percussion involved pieces, although I may be biased due to my experience with the former and aspirations for the latter. One performance of the night was entirely improvised to a slideshow Mr. Christian put together. Mr. Wooly’s improvisation on the trumpet was impressive, and Mr. Trant’s work as the percussionist was, in few words, fun to listen to. It had a real jazzy feeling to it, of which I greatly approve.
The last piece of the night is one I would also consider a highlight, and it was composed by Mr. Trant. It was a piece that felt it contained multiple phases, some repeating. The beginning and ending phases were perhaps the best of the entire piece, having a well-structured feel to them that flowed well and in blunt simplicity, was just fun to listen to. The piece evolved into accompanying of the trumpet’s sound with mellow percussion and supporting piano melodies, and then evolves in contrast, with both the percussion and the piano gaining a more chaotic sound, with a calm trumpet carrying a soothing melody in the background. It is the kind of experimental piece that works. It had excellent flow, even when the ‘velocity’ of each evolution changed.
There are some experimental components of the whole New Gallery Concert Series that I feel were neglected or just under developed. The whole concept of performing alongside visual art may differ with each new visual artist, but Mr. Christian’s contribution to the Series felt overshadowed by everything else in the show. Three copies of a photograph were on the stage, inviting us to combine the scene with the music we were hearing, but I often forgot they were even there.
Then there was Mr. Christian’s slideshow, which was supposed to be the focus of the improv piece. Instead, I felt the musicians unintentionally ‘stole’ the focus from his slideshow. Although in all fairness, while the photographs are of excellent quality, they are not attention holding in of themselves. You can only watch a slideshow of a rotating metal wedge, a multi-color painted balloon, a water heater in a basement, and the side of a house for so long until you space out; thinking of other things than what was on screen. Then it loops around for another 3 more rounds.
All in all, it certainly was an interesting end for my night, and the skill the performers applied was nothing short of impressive. There were definitely some standout pieces, but you have to wade through the other pieces as well, which are not terrible but were not entirely memorable either.