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Mapping out a new Direction

CrossSound's new program, 'Echography,' premieres Sept. 1-2

Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2005

It's increasingly rare to find bassoon players who specialize in contemporary music, and that's certainly helped Boston musician Janet Underhill indulge her affinity for adventure.

Underhill has been exploring new music since growing up in Victoria, British Columbia, and attending her older brother's avant-flavored recitals. Her classical contemporary style is often informed by John-Cage-like composition, minimalism framed by silence.

Her friendship with CrossSound directors Stefan Hakenberg and Jocelyn Clark led to an invitation to this year's fall program, and a June trip to Germany to rehearse with Chinese erhu and sheng player Wu Wei and Korean-American composer Il-Ryun Chung.

"It's really sort of bizarre in a way that I went to Berlin to play with a Chinese sheng player and meet a Korean-German composer to perform in Alaska," Underhill said. "I'm also very glad I got to do it."

Underhill, Wei and Chung will arrive in Juneau next week to prepare for the beginning of CrossSound's two-weekend-long fall program, "Echography."

Wei and Underhill will play a dual recital at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, at the First Presbyterian Church in Skagway, and 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, at Northern Light United Church in Juneau. Chung (changgu) will join them on a few pieces.

The following weekend, all three will play with a 15-piece sinfonietta in CrossSound's main program, at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, at Northern Light United Church, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10 at Sitka's Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Karidi house.

The term "echography," sometimes known as "ultrasonography," refers to the process of using high-frequency sound waves to visualize underwater objects.

In this case, it's metaphorical. The players are using work from the festival's past to map out a new direction. The program includes three newly commissioned compositions alongside three works from the first CrossSound festival in 1999.

CrossSound 2005

What: "Echography" recital concert, http://www.crosssound.com

With: Wu Wei, sheng (Chinese mouth organ); Il-Ryun Chung, changgu (Korean drum); Janet Underhill, bassoon.

Where, when: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, at the First Presbyterian Church in Skagway; 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, at Northern Light United Church.

Juneau tickets: $15 general, $10 at students, at Hearthside Books or the door. General ticket holders of Perseverance Theatre's "The People's Temple" receive student price ($10) and student ticket holders receive half price ($5). Family members of soldiers serving in Iraq receive free admission.

Other events

• CrossSound guest musician Wu Wei will lead a workshop on the erhu (the Chinese fiddle), the sheng (Chinese mouth organ) and an assortment of other Chinese instruments sometime during the Sept. 2-4 weekend.

The location and times will be announced. Call CrossSound at 586-9601 for more information.

Wei was born in 1970 in Jiangsu Province and began studying the erhu at the age of 5. At 15, he began playing the sheng at the Art Academy of Nanhing and continued to study at the Conservatory of Shanghai.

• Composer and University of Virginia professor Matthew Burtner, born in Kaktovik and native to Naknek, will speak about how his music relates to his experiences as an Alaskan at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, at Northern Light United Church, one hour before the main "Echography" performance.

Burtner explores noise-based musical systems, electroacoustics and interactive media and his music has included the sound of winds in Bristol Bay.

• CrossSound guest Janet Underhill will offer classes for wind players during her stay in Juneau. Underhill is the head woodwind coast for the Greater Boston Youth Orchestra, one of the finest youth symphonies in the United States.

Call Rick Trostel at 586-1915 for more information.

• Joel Belgique, principal cellist with the Oregon Symphony and member of the New Music Ensemble in Portland, will be available to teach master classes and private lessons to viola students. For more information, call Jenny Quinn at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, 586-ARTS, or CrossSound at 586-9601.

• Laura Koenig, professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage and sinfonietta flutist, is available to talk to high school students about opportunities to study music in college. For more information, contact CrossSound at 586-9601.

"Echography" also celebrates CrossSound's 10th program, 20th guest artist, 30th concert and 40th commissioned work.

• SEPT. 1-2 DUO RECITALS: Underhill and Wei will both perform world premieres for the Sept. 1-2 concerts.

Underhill will premiere "Exabruptos 3," written by Peruvian composer Pedro Malpica. The piece explores the full range of the instruments and a variety of sound possibilities. Underhill was familiar with Malpica from a piece he wrote for Alea III, a company she plays with in Boston.

She will perform the West Coast premiere of "Primion Beta," written by Greek composer Alexandros Kalogeras, who worked with CrossSound in 2003. She has also arranged "Bell Ringing in An Empty Sky," a traditional piece on the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute), for the bassoon.

Wei will premiere "Spirit of the Bamboo" for the sheng. In addition, he will play three traditional Chinese solos for sheng and "Du bai," a 2003 sheng composition by Chinese writer Chen Xiaoyong.

The show will end with "Dragon Dance," an improvised piece featuring Underhill, Wei and Chung, on the changgu, a double-headed, hourglass-shaped drum, usually played with the palm of the left hand and a bamboo stick in the right hand.

Underhill, Wei and Chung rehearsed three times in Berlin.

"We sat down and improvised together to try and develop some commonality," Underhill said. "I've never played with a sheng player and he's never played with a bassoonist. We both come from different traditions, different parts of the world, different backgrounds."

• SEPT. 9-10 "ECHOGRAPHY PROGRAM": CrossSound's main program includes three new compositions alongside three pieces that premiered at the festival in 1999.

Those works - "Barcarolle," composed by Marti Epstein for violin, viola and cello; "... there is none like you amongst the dancers," by Cord Meijering for viola, flute, changgu and kayagum; and "Suite for Four," by Oliver Schneller for cello, baroque flute, oboe and trumpet -will be performed with new players.

Chung has written a dual concerto for bassoon and sheng that includes all 15 players in the sinfonietta. Chung has lived in Berlin since 1984 and specializes in solo guitar, chamber music and traditional Korean drumming. He also plays with Jocelyn Clark in the solo ensemble IIIZ+.

His work will be guest conducted by Stewart Emerson, an opera director from Berlin who will be in town to work with Opera to Go!

Riad Abdel-Gawad, an Egyptian-American composer who lives in Cairo and taught in Beirut this year, has written "Meadow upon the Banks of the Nile," a work featuring Underhill (bassoon) and Haines oboe player Nancy Nash, a former member of the Juneau Symphony.

Juneau's William Todd Hunt will conduct.

"(Abdel-Gawad has) really removed himself out of his Western background and all the way into the Egyptian music world," Hakenberg said. "It's probably the most different piece that we've ever presented in that sense. It truly is Arabesque."

University of Virginia composition professor Matthew Burtner has written "Wind Prints," a piece based on the sounds of the winds in Bristol Bay. Burtner was born in Kaktovik and grew up in Naknek.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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