Last weekend New Music New College (NMNC) put on its biggest event yet with its fourth annual “Crossroads” festival. The two-day event entitled “Crossroads 4: The Meeting of the Minds” was held outside underneath the stars in the PespiCo Arcade at the Caples Fine Arts Complex on Friday and Saturday evening. The event combined both professional and student musicians in the same setting all in the name of musical experimentation.
“Crossroads is always about mixing,” New College Provost and Director of NMNC said in his introduction of Saturday’s performance to a crowd of approximately 200 students and Sarasota locals. “It’s about … mixing different musical styles and types of music … [It’s about] musicians of very different trainings and backgrounds coming together and learning from each other. One of the things we love about Crossroads is having music that is so different … back-to-back or slammed against each other.”
The festival commenced with a concert by the contemporary jazz ensemble, Fluid Motion, on Friday, March 2. Saxophone extraordinaire and professional jazz player Sam Rivers was originally scheduled to attend the event but died just this past year at the age of 88 on Dec. 26, 2011. Two new influential jazz musicians, drummer Ronnie Burrage and trumpeter Jonathan Powell, both of whom have had the privilege of performing with Rivers, joined Fluid Motion in his stead. Fluid Motion’s Friday performance honored Rivers by playing some of his favorite compositions and songs he created himself. The following Saturday afternoon, Burrage, MacArthur-award winning composer George E. Lewis and theorist bell hooks led an open discussion called “The Politics of Race and American Experimental Music.” Finally, in the evening Fluid Motion gave a second performance followed by a duet between Miles and trombonist David Manson. New College bands Physical Plant and the New Ensemble performed their sets next and then later Miles and various members of the Sarasota Orchestra played a composition by R.L. Silver. The event, as its name promised, exhibited crossings between various musical genres as the performances flowed from the free jazz of Fluid Motion, to the psychedelic and folk-inspired rock of Physical Plant to the classically-based modern sound of the New Ensemble.
The real kicker however, was the last performance of the evening in which the entire plethora of musicians played together in one cohesive composition.
In addition to the venue’s built-in stage, NMNC created two more stages on either sides of the grassy plain in the complex’s center. Though chairs were set up on the one stage-less side of the open complex, attendees were encouraged to stand on the green and walk to each stage as performers began to play.
“We invite you to leave your seats, to mingle, to come in front of the musicians as they play [and] to follow the music as it moves from one stage to another,” Miles announced to the audience.
“We [don’t] just give concerts in recital halls,” Miles explained earlier in an interveiw. “We really try to rethink how you present contemporary music.”
The festival’s final performance was headed by the world renowned composer, Francis Schwartz, who composed a piece that integrated all of the event’s performers into a hodgepodge of auditory flavors. He dedicated the song, which utilizes everything from classical and contemporary musical instruments to cooking utensils, to legendary composers Pauline Oliveros and the late John Cage.
“They both gave us a certain type of freedom that is so important, not only in our music but certainly in our lives,” Schwartz said, perched on top of a mini-stage centered within all three main stages. “So I think you should feel very free this evening to join us in what is ‘Cooking at the Crossroads with Pauline and John.’”
The last piece was certainly an experience for those huddled out in the midst of the green expanse. After Schwartz introduced his original composition, audience members waited in apprehension, unsure of which of the three stages to look at. Tuba sounded from the first stage, and other jazz instruments slowly joined in. Physical Plant jumped into the mix from the opposite stage, directly behind the audience. Finally the New Ensemble began to play on yet another side of the field. Instruments as varying as electrical guitar, tuba, laughing voices and trumpet sounded from every corner around the audience. NMNC students stalked through the crowds hissing or making loud noises, completing the seemingly omnipresent advance on the ears. The piece seemed to channel a Fellini movie as a woman in a kitchen apron appeared in front of a microphone surrounded by kitchen utensils. Attendees could hear the sounds of her whisking a batter, opening a can of soda or grating an orange.
“We’ve always been interested in thinking about how to present any kind of contemporary music … in a way that’s going to create the strongest experience for the audience,” Miles said.