In its 23rd year of existence, the Duke music department’s Encounters: With the Music of Our Time presents crossover music in the truest sense. Moving intelligently across the genre lines of classical, rock, jazz, experimental, pop, and more, the compositions in the performance don’t simply contrast different musical styles; they deconstruct genres into their components and reassemble them anew in the effort to create something never heard before.
This can especially be said for Marc Faris’s work, the cleverly named Cultural Studies, which Faris completed as a dissertation project in the Duke music department. The piece is written for three quartets–a brass quartet, a rock band, and an amplified string quartet. They perform on their own and as a collective whole, exploring both tonal harmonies and out-there, ungrounded dissonance, improvising and reaching for new timbres and rhythms in the performance.
As a classically-trained composer who himself crosses genre lines constantly as a member of the local rock outfit The Sames, the experimental new-music group pulsoptional, and other ensembles, Faris has thought long and hard about reframing the classical-rock dialogue. He wants to take the interaction beyond the simplistic oppositional pairing of classical and rock pioneered by groups such as Kronos Quartet. In Cultural Studies, Faris explains by email, “I tried to force aspects of both rock and classical traditions ‘outside themselves’ and into a new space in order to highlight details and complexities below the surface.” Faris’ goal was “to suggest a communicative space that encourages the musicians and audience to seek a new common ground.”
The rest of the program continues along these lines of rethinking genre boundaries. Dan Becker’s Gridlock, written for a 10-piece ensemble is, according to Marc Faris, “a very neat piece–quick, basically tonal and kind of post-minimalist, but full of interesting quirks and twists.” Also: Unrequited Love, a composition for viola and tape, written by Sophia Serghi, who teaches at William & Mary. And a tribute to composer Luciano Berio, who died in May–his composition O King, which is itself an homage to Dr. Martin Luther King. “It’s a gorgeous, meditative work scored for mezzo-soprano and five instruments, focusing on the vowel sounds in Dr. King’s name and a slow and subtle timbral development,” Faris says.
On hand to perform are Faris, conductor Mike Votta, the Ciompi Quartet, singer and Duke graduate student Jenny Woodruff, and various members of the Duke music faculty, as well the Carolina Brass, from Greensboro, members of Faris’s pulsoptional ensemble, and local guitar hero David Jordan.