Lontano Ensemble: Rowland Sutherland, flute; Peter Furniss, clarinet; Caroline Balding, violin; Clare O’Connell, cello; Mary Dullea, piano; Odaline de la Martinez, conductor.
The famed London-based Lontano Ensemble returns to MIT on March 15 to perform works by MIT composers in a concert in Killian Hall. The program includes Peter Child’s Seeing the Unseen for ensemble and video; John Harbison’s Chaconne; Keeril Makan’s Afterglow; Elena Ruehr’s Blackberries for violin, cello, and piano; Charles Shadle’s Red Cedar for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano (US Premiere); and Evan Ziporyn’s Thread.
Lontano is dedicated to producing and performing works by contemporary composers from Britain and America, with a particular focus on women and Latin American artists. The ensemble’s commitment to issues of diversity and inclusion is evident in their educational projects; they have conducted workshops in Macedonia, Argentina and throughout London, focusing on such subjects as African influences on Tango or the culture and music of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities in the UK.
Lontano’s sphere of activity also includes contemporary opera, music theatre, concerts, tours, broadcasts and recordings. Since 2002, Lontano has been ensemble in residence at Kings College, London University, and in 2006, they created the London Festival of American Music, a biennial festival to celebrate the work of major American composers and highlight the stylistic diversity in contemporary American music.
Lontano was in residence at MIT in 2011 as part of MIT’s 150th Anniversary celebrations. In November 2014, Lontano’s 5th London Festival of American Music at The Artists’ Church in Covent Garden and St. James Theatre, featured music by MIT composers, including at least two World Premieres and several UK Premieres.
As De la Martinez observed, “Over the years, we’ve established such a close relationship with all of the MIT professors. After the wonderful reception we received last time we performed at MIT, we really look forward to returning. It will be a real treat to perform works by all the composers this time.”
De la Martinez points out that Lontano performed several of the works included in this concert previously and looks forward to reprising them at MIT. They selected Ruehr’s Blackberries, for instance, for the BBC Invitational in honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2015. Shadle’s Red Cedar, which premiered at the 5th London Festival of American Music, will have its US premiere in Killian. Also, Lontano will present Peter Child’s Seeing the Unseen, a soundtrack to the 1936 film by Doc Edgerton by the same name, which uses stroboscopic photography to show milkdrops and hummingbirds in startling detail.
Harbison, Ziporyn and Makan are the other faculty composers Lontano will feature in Sunday’s concert. Harbison describes Chaconne, a piece for which he followed a ground bass principal, as follows, “I wanted to choose a pattern as familiar to our times as the descending chromatic used in Bach’s cantatas 12 and 78 (and more loosely in his D Minor violin chaconne) was in the 1700s.” Ziporyn’s Thread was composed for a multi-disciplinary piece called “Prayers for the Planet”, a 2005 collaboration between choreographer Nicola Hawkins, dancers, and Dinosaur Annex (a new music group), and centered around the work of batik artist Mary Edna Fraser. Lastly, Makan’s Afterglow, as the title implies, is designed to beguile the listener into hearing beyond the immediate gesture to the vibrations of the unplayed strings within the piano.
The program promises to be stylistically varied and deliver a bit of the diversity that is the hallmark of Lontano Ensemble’s work.