CMA's Gartner Opening Nights Festival continues with classic 1975 work by Louis Andriessen
by Mike Telin
This week’s Cleveland Museum of Arts Gartner Auditorium Opening Nights Festival features the music of Baby Dee, alt-rock singer-songwriter and the Opera Cleveland Chorus directed by Dean Williamson, as well as Louis Andriessen’s 1975 classic, Workers Union, performed by a cast of stars.
Andriessen describes the piece as “a combination of individual freedom and severe discipline: its rhythm is exactly fixed; the pitch on the other hand, is indicated only approximately, on a single-lined stave. It is difficult to play in an ensemble and to remain in step, sort of thing like organizing and carrying on political action.”
We spoke with percussionist Paul Cox (above) about the piece, the performers, and what we can be in store for on Wednesday evening.
Mike Telin: Who came up with the idea of performing this piece?
Paul Cox: Scott Dixon, who is a double bass player in the Cleveland Orchestra, was looking for a piece to do in Miami, as part of the Cleveland Orchestra’s outreach activities. Scott is a pretty adventurous guy, so he wanted to do something that was a little more “rocking” so to speak. It turned out that it went really well. Scott and Tom Welsh at the Art Museum are good friends and when Tom was thinking about what to do on the Opening Nights Festival, they said hey, let’s do this piece.
MT: In the score, Andriessen says that the piece is for a loud ensemble of any size; how many people will be on stage?
PC: For this performance, Mark Jacobs will be playing an electric string instrument, sort of like an electric violin, Max Dimoff is playing electric bass, Scott Dixon is playing electric guitar, I’m playing vibraphone, Marc Damoulakis is playing xylophone, and Dillon Moffitt, who is at CIM, will be playing a multi-percussion set-up, with break drums, tom-toms, and a kick-drum. It’s going to be super loud!
MT: Tell me more about the inner workings of the piece.
PC: It is relentless rhythmically. It goes by quickly and it requires a lot of concentration, as the meters are always shifting. It also requires that everybody commit and really go for it. You can’t be afraid to make a mistake, it’s like Rock and Roll, and you can’t be timid and try to blend in. It is also about staying with the group. Andriessen is very clear in the music that it is a group effort. It is about democracy in a sense in that it requires participation even when it becomes super difficult and uncomfortable. For example, if you get off a little bit, it is up to you to catch up with the rest of the group and get back with the majority.
MT: You said to me in your e-mail that this was a piece that requires everyone to work together in spite of their differences, what are these differences?
PC: Let me explain the definition of differences as it applies to this piece. An electric viola and guitar are different from striking an instrument, so the differences are more in how the instruments work and the techniques needed to play them. It’s also how we negotiate space, as in the difference between electric and acoustic, the electric definition of loud and the acoustic definition of loud.
MT: What attracts you to Andriessen’s Music?
PC: For me it is that his music is usually rhythmically intense and uncompromising. It requires that all of the players be connected through a shared pulse. You also have to listen in a way that is almost like a meditative type of listening. There is also a playful aspect to it. It’s jazzy, it’s funky, is also a sense that you are almost in a rock band soundscape. It is psychologically engrossing to play. It also requires that the audience be open to what is going to happen, and it’s usually going to happen for a long time. (laughing) you know, sit down, get comfortable and have a good time.
MT: How do you go about rehearsing a piece such as this?
PC: Oh yes, that’s a good question. On one side we are trying to listen very carefully, but we are also wearing earplugs. For me, I am listening with my ears, but I am also listening with my body. The piece is very physical. In rehearsals we also have people go out and listen to see if we are together. We also rehearse sections, such as strings alone or percussion alone. Anything that can help us to get the rhythms to line up and be as tight as possible. Since the pitches are unspecified, it is all about the rhythm.
MT: Do you have any final thoughts?
PC: Just one last thing, because in a sense this is like a homecoming for me because I was the associate director of music at the museum for ten years, and I was part of the Gartner renovation planning committee. So to be able to go back and to play in the newly renovated hall is going to be really exciting. It will be a highlight of the year for me.
The concert is Wednesday, April 14
7:00 pm — CMA Gartner Auditorium Opening Nights Festival, with Baby Dee, alt-rock singer-songwriter, Opera Cleveland Chorus, Dean Williamson, director & percussionists Paul Cox, Mark Jacobs, Marc Damoulakis, Scott Dixon & friends performing Louis Andriessen’s 1975 classic, Workers Union. Sixth in a series of performances celebrating the reopening of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s performance space . Gartner Auditorium, Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Boulevard. Free but tickets required (limit of 4 per order). Call 216.421.7350.