Pioneering composer Scott Johnson joins acclaimed new music ensemble Contemporaneous to present two works for electric band: the world premiere of Assembly Required and the New York premiere of Americans—a work based on the sampled voices of immigrants to the US. Written during the wave of xenophobia in the years following the 9/11 attacks, Americans has been made even more timely by the alarming global rise of nativism and ethnic nationalism. In the words and voices of immigrants from Afghanistan, China, and Romania, Americans explore the experience of people who have risked the unknown in pursuit of a better life. By contrast, Assembly Required is a purely instrumental work, written as a companion piece for the same rock-based ensemble as Americans. But it grows from a very different impulse. It’s a reflection on popular music, and on the sociality that inspires it, the gatherings where it occurs, and the value of the vernacular to “classical” traditions, past and present. Here, Johnson is mining his own experiences and the combination of commonality and personal desires and expectations that the broader culture distills into the familiar sounds that oil the wheels of our sociality.
“Mr. Johnson’s music is playful and engaging; only gradually do you realize “Americans” is also a sophisticated examination of the way immigrants negotiate cultural isolation and assimilation.” — The New York Times
Johnson will appear on electric guitar in “Up and Back”, which will feature shamisen virtuoso Yoko Reikano Kimura and two of New York’s most notable new music performers: cellist Ashley Bathgate and pianist Stephen Gosling. Shamisen and guitar are both members of an instrument group that is ubiquitous in diverse human cultures, and they share many techniques – “Up and Back”’s first movement ends with a gesture common in both shamisen music and heavy metal guitar solos. Here the two meet within the framework of Western chamber music. This piece was inspired by a day spent in the mountains of New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness: an exhilarating ascent and traverse between peaks, a hypnotic interlude on a summit, and a final dash for the treeline, hoping the sudden hailstorm wouldn’t involve any lightning.
This concert illustrates the cross-generational continuity between Roulette’s founding generation of downtown Manhattan musicians and the younger musicians of today’s Brooklyn-centered new music world. In both cases, compositional inheritances and the influence of living popular musics have hybridized to create a vibrant new musical ecosystem.
Scott Johnson: electric guitar
Yoko Reikano Kimura: shamisen
Ashley Bathgate: cello
Stephen Gosling: piano
David Bloom: conductor
Composer Scott Johnson has been a pioneering voice in the new relationship being forged between the classical tradition and the popular culture that surrounds it. A forerunner of today’s post-classical trends, he has played an influential role since the early 1980’s in the incorporation of rock-derived instruments, electronics, and musical materials into traditionally scored compositions. Works featuring transcribed speech melody range from its invention in the groundbreaking John Somebody (1982), to Mind Out Of Matter (2015), featuring the voice of philosopher Daniel C. Dennett. His music has been presented worldwide by performers including the Kronos Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, the American Composers Orchestra, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; in works performed by the London Contemporary Dance Theater and the Ballets de Monte Carlo, and in recordings on the Nonesuch and Tzadik labels. Awards include the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. (scottjohnsoncomposer.com)
Contemporaneous is an ensemble of 22 musicians whose mission is to bring to life the music of now. Recognized for “ferocious, focused performance” (The New York Times), Contemporaneous performs and promotes the most exciting work of living composers through innovative concerts, commissions, recordings, and educational programs. Contemporaneous has premiered more than 200 works, championing large-scale works that take risks and defy constraints. Based in New York City and active throughout the United States, Contemporaneous has been presented by such institutions as Lincoln Center, Park Avenue Armory, PROTOTYPE Festival, St. Ann’s Warehouse, and Bang on a Can and has worked with such artists as David Byrne, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Dawn Upshaw, and Julia Wolfe. Contemporaneous also leads participatory programs for public school students, designed to instill a passion for new music and to convey the power of careful listening and meaningful expression through music.
American cellist Ashley Bathgate has been described as an “eloquent new music interpreter”(New York Times) and “a glorious cellist”(The Washington Post) who combines “bittersweet lyricism along with ferocious chops”(New York Magazine). Her “impish ferocity”, “rich tone” and “imaginative phrasing” (New York Times) have made her one of the most sought after performers of her time. For the past ten years Bathgate was a member of the acclaimed sextet Bang on a Can All-Stars. She is also a member of the chamber music group HOWL, TwoSense with pianist Lisa Moore, and Bonjour, a low-strung, percussive quintet. (ashleybathgate.com)
Stephen Gosling earned his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees at Juilliard, where he was awarded the Mennin Prize and the Sony Elevated Standards Fellowship. He is a member of the New York New Music Ensemble and Talea Ensemble, as well as a pianist at New York City Ballet. He has also performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Orpheus, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Eighth Blackbird, American Composers Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic – as soloist in Messiaen’s Sept Haïkaï, and also in the recent premiere of Steve Reich’s Music for Ensemble and Orchestra.
Yoko Reikano Kimura (koto, shamisen and singer) has concertized around the world based in New York and Japan. The New York Times described her shamisen playing and singing as “superb.” She has worked with renowned musicians such as Heiner Goebbels, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Daron Hagen, Wien Soristen Trio, among many others. Her performances have been featured at prestigious venues, such as Warsaw Autumn Festival, Israel Festival, Nova Arts in Bordeaux, John F. Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Metropolitan Museum, United Nation, Japan Society, New York Live Arts, and Asia Society Texas Center. Kimura has performed with American Symphony Orchestra, the Wintergreen Music Festival Orchestra, and numerous string quartets in the US, and her performance was broadcasted on NPR’s Performance Today. Recently, Kimura held Duo YUMENO’s tenth anniversary recital at Carnegie Hall with cellist, Hikaru Tamaki. In 2020, she will give the Japan premiere performance of Daron Hagen’s Koto Concerto: Genji. (yokoreikanokimura.com)
Contemporaneous photo by Russ Rowland, Concert Photo by Ayumi Sakamoto, headshot by Patricia Nolan