Alta:nova performs election themed music

Contemporary ensemble alta:nova performed its election themed program the day before the U.S election, inviting listeners to think about politics in a new way.

The performance was held on Nov. 7 at Theatre Junction Grand and saw about 100 attendees. The room had red lights on one side, and blue on the other, to represent the bipartisan election.

Much like their program, the ensemble is modelled off of the concept of democracy, as each member brings their ideas for an event focused on their own interests.

The group said that they don’t have a political agenda, but that they’d like to present some new perspectives.

“It’s simply examining some of the human characteristics of how each candidate has put themselves out there,” said Jeremy Baumann, the violist for the group.

The group enjoys exploring older works that can bring new perspectives, as well as doing commissions for newer works that have never been heard before.

“Artist have such a history of being dissidents and having some sort of commentary on politics and the degradation of society, so there are a lot of political pieces out there,” said Erin Fung, the clarinet player for the group.

“There’s a growing trend of music being kind of a background thing that’s not thought provoking, and for me it’s really important for music continues to get people to get people to think about things differently, and that it is related to modern social issues and that is relevant in our society today.”

The night of music opened with alta:nova’s percussionist Tim Borton playing Sleight of And Evil Hand, played with brushes on a drum, circling a traditional metronome.

“He has to tap the metronome and play around it so it’s kind of like having to live within the confines of the oppressive nature of bipartisan spectacle,” said Fung.

The ensemble even commissioned a piece by composer Marcin Swoboda, titled Just Let Him Build a Wall, specifically for the event.

Though the title may lead some to believe the piece is about republican nominee Donald Trump, the work is actually a sarcastic reference to Hillary Clinton.

The music featured dissident percussion, and became increasingly more erratic, which composer Swoboda named as the growing insanity of the election.

“There’s this part in the opening where our musical gesture is a falling motif that’s supposed to be representative of Hillary Clinton’s fainting episode,” said Fung.

“At the end of the piece, where the viola and the clarinet have that really frantic upwards ascending line, it’s to do with one of her speeches or her voice sounding shrill.”

Representation of Trump wasn’t left out of the mix, however, as the group played Cheating, Lying, Stealing with him in mind.

The piece featured a sneaky, pompous bass clarinet line, something Fung said she has wanted to play before she even started playing the clarinet.

“It ends with a clear beat that’s very outward and almost menacing,” said Baumann.

“The two middle sections in between are very slow and introspective. I see it a little bit as the process of when you get angry, you put a lot of this emotion out there and then afterwards you have time to reflect on what you’ve said.

“In the case of Trump, maybe he has those moments of reflection, but just like in the piece, the anger keeps coming back.”

Although Senator Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic primaries to Clinton, he holds a soft spot in the hearts of the group.

“I love Bernie sanders, I just have a huge soft spot in my heart for him and so we programmed the piece Worker’s Union in honour of the idea of a union and people pushing towards suffrage and human rights,” said Fung.

Erin Fung (left), and Jeremy Baumann (right) play Workers Union by Louis Andriessen at Theatre Junction Grand in Calgary on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. The two musician's played with their group alta:nova, a contemporary music ensemble. (Photo by Miriam Johnston/The Press)
Erin Fung (left), and Jeremy Baumann (right) play Workers Union by Louis Andriessen at Theatre Junction Grand in Calgary on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. The two musician’s played with their group alta:nova, a contemporary music ensemble. (Photo by Miriam Johnston/The Press)

In the piece, all the pitches are up to the players, but the rhythm is set, so everyone is doing something in a slightly different way.

Fung also brought up the concept of a protest, and it came through as the tones the group chose became chaotic but also strong and never ending.

Amidst the music, audio clips of both the candidates’ voices were laid over top of the group’s playing of Radiohead’s National Anthem, which closed out the night.

The candidates’ voices slowly became background noise amidst the slamming drums and electric bass, showing the group’s musical diversity.

The event also featured a Donald Trump piñata, made by Fung, which was used as a fundraiser for the ensemble. Attendees could pay $5 per swing at the piñata, which eventually became so destroyed, it had to be strung up by the neck.

The group tries to commission a new piece for every show they perform, which happens about once a year.

The next show will be anti-corporate Valentines Day themed, and will take place in February.