Composer/Musician Angelica Negron Featured in SDCO Concert

Feb 9, 2018

Composer/musician Angelica Negron is in Springfield today for the performance of one of her orchestral works by the Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra.
Credit (Photo courtesy www.angelicanegron.com)

It's an evening of firsts for the Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra, as they play their first-ever concert in the Gillioz Theatre tonight as 7:30pm, and offer a concert featuring music exclusively by living composers--mostly (but not exclusively) female composers. 

One of the composers whose music will be played at tonight's concert is Puerto Rican-born composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Angelica Negron (pronounced "an-HEL-ih-kah neh-GROHN").  She joined me live in the studio this morning during "Arts News," along with the SDCO's Assistant Conductor Amy Andreassen.

Negron's musical tastes and involvement are nothing if not eclectic.  In addition to being a founding member of an ambient-electro-acoustic pop group known as Balun, where she sings and plays the accordion and keyboards, Negron has made a name for herself in recent years composing orchestral and chamber music--and she's currently working on an opera--as well as having a keen interest in electronic music.  "I've always been really interested in combining electronics with acoustic instruments, and voices as well. I've always been really interested, too, in making the performance of electronic music more engaging and more dynamic. I often was a little bored when I saw (performances of) pieces that involved electronics, and I wanted to see where the sounds came from, to see the action behind the sound.  I'm really influenced by pioneering electronic musicians like Pauline Oliveros."

When it came to seeing "the action behind the sound," electronic-music pioneers had very large apparatus with lots of knobs and switches to manipulate during live performances of their music.  Negron says her "pet peeve" regarding electronic musicians today is the lack of visual showmanship involved in simply hitting the spacebar on a computer keyboard and causing music and sounds to come forth. "So I'm always trying to find new ways to bring electronic music performance to a level that's more interesting to the audience.  So that has brought me to write for unusual instruments, and to collaborate with instrument builders.  And I've been working a lot with robotic and mechanical instruments"--and even with toy instruments. The latter, she admits, "are not thought of as professional music-makers," but she's "interested in exploring accessibility in music-making.  I believe everyone can make music, so I believe using these sounds not only expands my sonic palette but also helps me connect with the audience."

The Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra will play one of Angelica Negron's purely orchestral pieces, "Me he perdido" (I am lost).  "It's a piece I wrote two years ago. It was a commission from the American Composers Orchestra for their Sonic Festival." This will, in fact, only be the work's second performance.  She will also do a solo set tonight featuring some of her non-orchestral writing. "You'll get to hear a little bit of how my ambient pop music influences the writing I've done for orchestras." 

Amy Andreassen, SDCO Assistant Conductor, stresses the importance of "having the composer here and to be able to talk to us about what the motivation was behind this piece.  I love the vulnerability that comes along with it, and I totally resonate with that. It's wonderful. And it's changed everything, her just being here."

In this interview you'll also hear Negron talk about composing the score for the AIDS documentary "Memories of a Penitent Heart," which was shown on PBS's "POV" series last year. "It's definitely one of the most meaningful projects I've ever done," she says.

You can sample Angelica Negron's music, including "Me he perdido", at her website  http://www.angelicanegron.com.

Amy Andreassen also talked about the other works on tonight's SDCO concert.  The orchestra's Music Director Christopher Koch will conduct most of the program, but Andreassen directs one of the works tonight--interestingly, the only work on the concert by a MALE composer: "Conga del Fuego Nuevo" (Conga of the New Fire) by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez.  How did HE get into this other all-female composers' concert? "We were just looking for pieces that hadn't been performed here. I really wanted to do the 'Danzon No.2'"--probably Marquez's most famous and popular piece. But it turns out the Springfield Symphony beat SDCO to it a few seasons ago.  But since, as Andreassen says, "I was kind of attached to the idea of Marquez," his "Conga del Fuego Nuevo" made the cut. Thus, one male composer has managed to sneak onto an otherwise all-female program.

The featured work tonight is the Symphony No. 3 by American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Andreassen says it's "interesting." "It's not like Brahms and Beethoven and Mozart. It's newer, of course. And in those terms it's different, and its own kind of challenging. But it is pleasing to the ear" (as she says all the works on the concert are). "We think of 'new' music, and I think a lot of times we don't understand it. We go (to a concert) and there's this wash of sounds, and we don't know what to make of them."  Thankfully, we are well past the mid-20th-century aesthetic of new music consisting mostly of listener-unfriendly academic exercises, written by "academics" mostly for the approval and perusal of other "academics", and with no real effort to reach out to the public at large.

Adds Angelica Negron, "I think it also makes a huge difference in the impact of new music on audiences when it's programed well.  And that's one of the things that this orchestra has done really nicely, putting it in a program that makes sense, that's challenging to the ears but also in a very inviting way, not kind of saying, 'This is high art--you should understand this!'" (And if you don't, too bad!) "And part of it also is to have living composers, to bring them here.  And I'm really thankful and honored to be here, because it's not just hearing my piece--it's me also being part of the community, even for a little bit, and to interact with the students and the musicians, and to play the other music that I write that's not for orchestras.  And that's all context for understanding and connecting to my sound world."

The Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra concert, titled "New Voices," is tonight (Friday February 9) at 7:30pm at the Gillioz Theatre, 325 Park Central East.  Tickets are $14 and available from the Gillioz box office, 863-9491, or at http://www.gillioztheatre.com.