- Shara Worden (right) is the featured vocalist on 'Penelope,' a song cycle by Sarah Kirkland Snider (left) to be performed March 9 at Hilbert Circle Theatre.
Beth Outland, VP of community engagement and strategic innovation with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, believes that in this iPod era, we aren't just listening to music in a different way, but young composers are also writing and performing it in new ways. Using the example of the group Time for Three, who are in their fifth year of of an ISO residency, she says, "This is the first generation of professional musicians who have crawled up with unprecedented access to world music at the press of a button."
Because of this ease of access, Outland believes that young musicians are less willing to operate, as she describes it, "solely within the box of a specific genre." Outland says that an awareness of this tendency in contemporary music is what led the ISO to partner with New Amsterdam, a New York-based "artists' service organization" that presents concerts, releases records and otherwise provides support by a core group of composers and performers that includes avant-pop chanteuse Shara Worden, aka My Brightest Diamond, and free-jazz bandleader Darcy James Argue.
The two-year collaboration kicked off in February with a performance of NewAm composer William Brittelle's Dunes, and it will continue March 9 with a concert featuring, in the first half, composer, performer and IU Jacobs School of Music alum http://vimeo.com/57392122">Son Lux, performing new arrangements of his own songs, as well as work by NewAm composers Caroline Shaw, Daniel Wohl and Brittelle. After the intermission, Worden will join the ISO to perform NewAm co-director Sarah Kirkland Snider's song cycle Penelope.
Outland describes NewAm as the "ideal partner" because of the organization's interest in "what exists beyond standard classical and pop." NewAm co-director Judd Greenstein says his organization doesn't find traditional genre distinctions useful: "Everything we've ever done as an organization starts with the premise that we are not trying to create a fixed, objective measure of what is good in music. I don't think there are too many people who would be fans of our entire catalog, because it's so diverse. We're not trying to create one sound that everyone accepts as the future of classical music. We're suggesting that the future we're all
heading into is more dynamic."
One piece of this diverse mosiac is composer and co-director Sarah Kirkland Snider, whose Penelope, based on Homer'sOdyssey, hangs somewhere between indie rock and classical music, with its drum and guitar bedrock supporting the melodic heft and texture of a chamber orchestra. Outland laughs when she recalls conversations withe NewAm concerning exactly how to define Snider's piece - and the output of NewAm, in general: "We'd say, is it indie classical? Can we say that? Yeah that one's okay. What about alt classical? No, we don't really like that one all that much."
Worden, who will sing lyrics written for Penelope by playwright Ellen McLaughlin, has worked in a wide array of styles and contexts, making her a perfect fit, in a way, in the NewAm universe. She says she considers content rather than form when deciding on what projects to pursue.
"When I think about David Byrne or Laurie Anderson, The Decemberists or Sufjan [Stevens], even my hip-hop collaborations with Vinnie Paz - there is always some story being told in one form or another." Of performing Penelope she says, "For me it's really about acting. I'm singing from at least four different per-
spectives. There's the voice of Penelope, a child, Odysseus, a fortune teller, so that aspect of the work is something I am enjoying getting deeper into with time."
Worden says that Snider composed the vocal part for Penelope with her or someone like her in mind - "Sarah [Kirkland Snider] had a sound in her head of a more close-mic vocal style and wanted someone with pop sensibilities, but who could count twos, threes, and fives" - and notes that her ability to count measures as a pop musician has given her "a new corner on the market."
Ryan Lott, who goes by the nom de plume of Son Lux, has enlisted several NewAm composers to create live arrangements for songs that didn't have quite the same scope in the studio: "I've done many kinds of re-workings of my album material for the stage, but never for orchestra."
In addition to performing material from his albums, Lott's set will include two smaller sections of his Like Lazarus Did, a large-scale work for mixed chamber ensemble, electronics and children's choir.
Outland sees the NewAm partnership as one of many possible solutions to the problem of an aging audience. "Our goals are certainly about broadening our base. It's about sharing with people that the symphony may be different than what you expect."
And NewAm's Greenstein, for his part, is letting the ISO take the lead in these early days of the partnership: "We don't presume to know initially what's best for people in Indianapolis or how we can make those connections between the music that we're bringing to people who might not usually go to the symphony. What's great about this relationship is that the ISO and we are both looking at it as a collaboration that emphasizes the needs that already exist in the community."
Outland believes that the ISO will continue to seek out partnerships like this in the future, though she qualifies, "We're committed to doing this and doing it well. We won't just have a thousand sticky tentacles trying to stick to everything. We're trying to have really robust partnerships."
Worden approves of the ISO's encyclopedic approach in offering a little of everything, including new work: "There is room to value what came before us and continue these rich classical traditions, but also I think the institution in general has been realizing that it can't be just a museum of 100-year-old work. It must remain alive and changing, engaging in a present day social context."