Before taking to the stage for their “Darkness” concert tomorrow, I had a little chat with Colin Sorgi, Violinist and Artistic Director of SONAR new music ensemble. After taking a two-year hiatus, SONAR is back and tackling some major new music works. Friday night (January 18th, 8PM) will be another notch on their belt while they turn the Baltimore Theatre Project into the epicenter of hair-raising music. The program features George Crumb‘s “Black Angels” and Georg Friedrich Haas‘ “In iij. Noct.”
I could not wait to hear more about SONAR, their program on Friday, and their connection to Baltimore.
Sybaritic Singer: SONAR new music ensemble has already had quite a season. Tell me about the work you have been doing and your mission in the Baltimore music scene.
Colin Sorgi: We’re extremely excited about where things have been heading with our group! Our first two years, way back in 2007, we were really just doing this for fun and because we loved playing funky music. Five years later that hasn’t changed a bit but we’re older and wiser and can really see the potential we’ve got going for a lasting effect on the Baltimore music scene!
Since we’ve totally revamped everything this season, it hasn’t been without its ups and downs. However, I think that our deep commitment to contemporary music really shines through at all times. So far, in just 3 months we’ve premiered two new pieces, showcased some amazing American music, paid tribute to Elliott Carter and even raised some money for disaster relief. It’s been a great start!
SS: “Black Angels” was one of my first introductions to music that is positively terrifying. Crumb wrote that the piece was like a “parable on our troubled contemporary world.” With this performance, is SONAR also going for a parable on contemporary society?
CS: “Black Angels” is incredibly terrifying!! I’m still finding new terrifying things about it every day! I think that this is certainly why it has endured the past fifty or so years and is still one of the most “recognizable” pieces to – lots of people – we all know it by name and reputation, even if we haven’t heard it before. Not a lot of pieces hold that kind of distinction. Not only is it terrifying by the other-worldly sounds Crumb creates, it carries with it these social and political implications that are timeless.
The scope of our production won’t necessarily tie in the “troubled society” aspect but instead aims at the broader themes of life and death. The texts that our director Britt Olsen-Ecker has chosen are really wonderful and will be even more enhanced by the artwork from Trudi Ludwig Johnson.
SS: What do you perceive as the technical sounds that become so eerie and hair-raising when performed?
CS: Well, it’s actually in both pieces that we find rather ordinary sounds being transformed into something utterly unsettling. It’s just that a lot of times we don’t expect these sounds to be coming from musical instruments – we don’t get a lot of (intentional) scratching, knocking, or screaming in Beethoven!
Of course then there’s the extra stuff we had to acquire for “Black Angels” – metal chopsticks, thimbles, plectrums, maracas, 20 crystal glasses! It’s really hard to describe these sounds but anything other than eery – readers will just have to hear it for themselves. I think it’ll be very hard to not have a strong reaction to this concert.
SS: Hass’ “In iij. Noct.” is a “reference to the Third Nocturn of the old Roman Catholic Tenebrae service for Holy Week, which marked Christ’s sufferings and death with the gradual extinguishing of candles.” SONAR will be playing it in total darkness as is suggested in the score.
Alex Ross once wrote in a review of the piece that he “felt a fear such as [he has] never experienced in a concert hall: it was like being sealed in a tomb.” What are some of the goals of turning out all the lights for the performance of this piece?
CS: I’m pretty sure it is going to be mind-blowingly awesome, first of all! I’ve never seen it or heard it, none of us have, so it’s going to be a crazy experience for us and I can only imagine what the audience will feel.
We all know that creeped-out feeling we sometimes get when you realize you’re all alone in a pitch-black room. It’s usually a momentary mix of fear, panic, and loneliness, right? Well, add that to a concert hall and coming at you from all directions are these musical sounds. For a moment it will be totally jarring but I’m pretty positive that once the discomfort subsides, audience members will, together, be transported to another state of consciousness. A couple of us recently read an article in the LA Times about a performance of this piece where the author said he felt like, because of the darkness, he should go to sleep but that there was something so visceral about the experience that sleeping was absolutely impossible. It’s going to be really interesting to hear the reaction from the audience afterward!
SS: What were some of the specific challenges in practicing “In iij. Noct.”?
CS: Well, there have been many challenges! First off, the score has almost no musical notation – it’s all verbal direction so figuring out exactly what Mr. Haas wants was the first challenge. Rehearsing has been fun though because we each bring our own ideas to the table. The music has so much room for interpretation, I think we are really enjoying making it our own. We still haven’t turned out the lights so we’ll see how that goes!
SS: Why do you feel it was important to program this concert now?
CS: Really it just boils down to the fact that we love these two pieces and, since it seems like they will compliment each other unbelievably well, most of all, they deserve to be heard by welcoming ears. We think that Baltimore is a great place to do this kind of program – it’s a little different from what we usually do and we’ll stir some emotions, good or bad.
Wow! Are you all ready for this?
know before you go:
SONAR new music ensemble
The SONAR new music ensemble presents a hair-raising pairing of two of the most experimental string quartets of the past 50 years. George Crumb’s famed Black Angels for electric string quartet is transformed into a dramatic reflection on life and death featuring local Baltimore actors and directed by SONAR veteran, Britt Olsen-Ecker. The artwork of Baltimore Artist and MICA faculty member Trudi Ludwig-Johnson will be showcased.
The lights are turned off for a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Georg Friedrich Haas’ In iij. noct. With performers seated in the four corners of the theatre, SONAR musicians will tackle the pitch-black string quartet that the New Yorker calls “a modern masterpiece that transforms the concert hall into a place of shuddering mystery.”
Friday, January 18th 2013
Baltimore Theatre Project • 8:00 PM
Special Event Tickets are $10
Available for purchase at the door or online here:
https://btp.tixato.com/buy/darknessRefreshments will also be available before the show and during intermission.
For more information: