Piccolo Spoleto’s Spotlight Concert Series this year isn’t exactly easing into its nine concerts at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park with the soothing and the familiar. In the number-one slot for the series, which pops out of the cake on May 30, is an upstart local group of young, brash, classically trained musicians known as the New Music Collective who are to your father’s classical music what punk was to ’60s bubblegum pop.
The three main members of NMC — Nathan Koci, Philip White, and Ron Wiltrout — are by temperament more inclined toward experimental contemporary classical music than to the stuff of elevators and department store soundtracks, which usually recalls eras and wig styles long past. And while it’s true that much of the classical repertoire’s most venerated inventory was itself envelope-pushing material in its day, the New Music Collective like to keep eyes front, with only occasional glances to the past. So their kickoff concert on the festival’s opening weekend will include some older works — by minimalist maestro John Cage, Olivier Messiaen, and Steve Reich’s ambitious Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ with an 11-member vocal ensemble. But it will also include premieres of never-before-heard works from local composers Philip White and Mariah Dodson.
“While we love playing ‘classic’ new music works,” Koci says, “like those from Reich and Messiaen and Cage, it’s a goal of ours to build a repertoire of new works that we ask people to write for us.”
White’s new work, called Unplugged Everything Blindfolded for Percussion and Electronics, will make the most of the large space it’s being presented in.
“Philip’s piece utilizes steel drum and marimba and vibraphones and 10 cymbals suspended throughout the gallery,” Koci observes. “Plus there’ll be some electronic music involved. We want to create some spacial environmental effects in that big gallery.”
Another local composer who contributed a new work for the concert is Mariah Dodson, a saxophone player who’s performed in the past with NMC as well as local hip-hop/noise rock band Matter. Dodson’s still untitled piece is an arrangement for horn, vibraphone, and electric guitar. (“We just got it yesterday, we haven’t even played through it yet,” Koci concedes. “It’s been a busy month.”)
“We’re opening with a big piece from Olivier Messiaen called From the Canyons to the Stars, a big orchestral suite with I don’t even know how many movements. Like 12 or 15. One of the movements is a big horn piece called ‘Interstellar Call.’ So that should be fun.”
The most challenging work of the evening — from the players’ perspectives, anyway — will surely be Steve Reich’s 1989 Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ. Reich is a pioneering minimalist whose work is often characterized by phasing patterns that sound simple but are in fact quite complex.
“It’s a big ensemble thing,” Koci explains. “It’s got three marimbas, two sets of bells, a vibraphone, three singers, and an organ. It’s very mellow, sort of entrancing. They gave us a budget so we could create a big ensemble and hire people and all that. So that’s exciting. It’s kind of rare that you have that much percussion equipment all together in a room at the same time. So it’s gonna be something. I think all our percussion players are gonna be used a lot more than they realize.”
NEW MUSIC COLLECTIVE • Piccolo Spoleto’s Spotlight Concert Series • May 30 at 6 p.m. • $10 • City Gallery at Waterfront Park, 34 Prioleau St. • 554-6060