GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – A concert in a league of its own: Weidner Philharmonic’s “Women’s Work,” presented Saturday Night in Cofrin Family Hall of The Weidner at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
+ A world premiere.
+ Works solely of living composers.
+ Three of the composers are present, and the fourth is represented by work that received its world premiere in the hall.
+ One composer sings as part of her orchestral work, including leading the audience in voice as part of the experience.
+ The university’s chancellor conducts three of the four works on the program.
+ Three of the four works are new to performance in Green Bay.
+ All works are composed by women.
+ One of the composers teaches at UWGB.
+ The works are set around light, a natural disaster, our pandemic and soccer – music as description… thought and feeling expressed in myriad multicolored notes for the vast landscape of an orchestra, performed as one by humans.
The evening opened with the rare opportunity to explore the minds of three composers in one sitting. Clarice Assad, Michelle McQuade Dewhirst and Stacy Garrop gathered in adjoining Fort Howard Hall. Sponsored by The Weidner and the UWGB Institute for Women’s Leadership, the discussion was moderated by Kelli Strickland, artistic and executive director of The Weidner.
A key point: Women composers continue to be toiling uphill in the elevated environment of high-level music.
Stacy Garrop and Michelle McQuade Dewhirst said it helps – in day-to-day communication – to “talk and think like a man to ease the way in” – like learn about football (Garrop) or not only drink beer but know how to brew it (McQuade Dewhirst) because “you have to sort of speak the language a bit in order to fit in.”
Clarice Assad pointed out a difficulty that a vast majority of today’s composers have in the mind of the public: “Living, breathing.” Or: The only good composer is a dead composer.
Stacy Garrop spoke of her quest for her music to take a role in society. Michelle McQuade Dewhirst savors extending the parameters of music beyond her classroom role, sharing a thought on a large scale. Clarice Assad is especially expressive, visually in conversation and on stage as a singing composer.
These composers are very much alive and creating with strong voices, as proven by their works in Saturday’s program.
In the concert in Cofrin Family Hall, Michael Alexander opened with some statistics from his day job as UWGB chancellor. One is 60 percent of UWGB students are female.
He noted that devoting a concert to living women composers is special. He envisioned a day when it is not special.
The printed program for “Women’s Work,” compiled by musicologist J. Michael Allsen, emeritus professor of UW-Whitewater, not only covers biographical basics but provides listening tips under the title of “What You’ll Hear.”
The 1-2-3-4 of the program:
One. First performed was a work by Jennifer Higdon, which the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra premiered in 2007 during a high point of creativity. The caliber of Jennifer Higdon is demonstrated by this: Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for a violin concerto.
“Light” received a special introduction. The work is based on a poem by the late Wisconsin poet laureate, Ellen Kort. Charles Rybak, UWGB professor of English, told of a search to find the poem by way of Ellen Kort’s daughter, who attended. After Charles Rybak read a passage ending with an image of a life now a shadow, the audience was hushed.
The work creates an aura of mystery and mystique with moments of brilliant energy, like rays of the sun on a clear day.
Two. History as music.
Image a cataclysmic 1883 volcano as 21st century music for percussion and strings only.
Stacy Garrop’s three-movement “Krakatoa” features the power of percussion with the emotion of viola in a centering role.
Guest conductor Robert Nordling energized the orchestra. Guest artist Michael Hall, wearing a shirt akin to a molten explosion and playing a sturdy viola, delved hues of impending danger, massive dynamism and haunting aftermath.
Stacy Garrop created a circling motion for violin bows for added tension. A viola-percussion “duet” fuels a feeling of imminent jeopardy. And a viola-cello “duet” touches on melancholy. At times, the strings seem to moan.
Three. Music as what we lived – the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michelle McQuade Dewhirst’s compositional imagination peaks with an effect for the strings – quickly drawing the bow across a string while riding the left hand up the neck, resulting in a harsh, sharp, “WEEP” sound. Now, Michelle McQuade Dewhirst’s instrument is the horn, all metallic curls and golden radiance to the eye. Her clever sound dynamic for strings enhances the originality of “Out of Dark Waters, This”… and may be speed up trips to the instrument repair shop.
The music – uncertain and spare and searching at the start leading to tumult and then a rhythm with a beat and finally release – expresses what so many people lived and felt. Fascinating.
Four. Individuality – plus.
Clarice Assad draws from the Brazilian part of her life experience for “É Gol!” – soccer speak for “It’s a goal!”
She envisions a day in the life of superstar player Marta Vieira da Silva in sequences: “Nightmare,” “Morning Run,” “Nature Walk,” “Samba Party,” “Meditation” and “The Big Dream.”
Fit together are the orchestra, Clarice Assad singing sounds, not words, via electronic voice processor and the showing of projected images that include instructions for the audience to follow the Do-re-me-fa-sol-la-ti-do scale.
It’s all much more complex than that sentence.
But Clarice Assad is a communicator.
Through looks and gestures, she clued in Michael Alexander as he conducted the orchestra through a bright kind of music Clarice Assad composed. By voice, eye expression and hand/body language, Clarice Assad clued the audience in to joining in with sounds or actions. That pile included whoosh sounds, whispered nonsense words, finger snaps and hand claps to create raindrops and varied volumes to vocal responses. For a tease, Clarice Assad asked the audience to follow along in speedy, veering, rising/diving voice sounds she let fly to mimic the zip of samba.
Thus, came joy.
Overall, Jennifer, Stacy, Michelle and Clarice make music in ways never imagined by Ludwig, Wolfgang, Johann or Johannes, much less Pyotr, Sergei, Felix or Frederic and so on.
The concert piqued the interest of the musicians, made up of UWGB faculty, plus many drawn from orchestras and campuses in the region. The group performed with a sense of eagerness for roads less traveled.
The collaborative effect was especially visible when Michael Alexander, in black concert apparel rather than a chancellor’s suit, coordinated with Clarice Assad’s impromptu suggestions to lead the responsive musicians in rushes of spontaneity.
Whew, along with being in a league of its own, the concert was something else.
+ “Light” – Jennifer Higdon
Conductor: Michael Alexander
+ “Krakatoa” – Stacy Garrop
Michael Hall, viola, guest artist
Conductor: Robert Nordling
+ “Out of Dark Waters, This” (world premiere) – Michelle McQuade Dewhirst
Conductor: Michael Alexander
+ “É Gol!” – Clarice Assad
Clarice Assad, vocal soloist, audience director
Conductor: Michael Alexander
+ Conductor – Michael Alexander
+ Guest conductor: Robert Nordling
+ Violin I: Luis Fernandez, concertmaster; Audrey Nowak, assistant concertmaster; Lodewijk Broekhuizen, Jennifer Coopman, Kara McCanna, Jerad Miller, Jim Thornton, Chris Williams, Shoua Xiong
+ Violin II: Marvin Suson, principal; Beth Chafey-Hon, Larry Frye, Caitlin Kircher, TJ Lutz, Susan Thornton
+ Violas: Blakeley Menghini, principal; Ann Stephan, assistant principal; Corrina Albright, Jane Bradshaw Finch, Julie Handwerker, Steve Schani
+ Cello: Michael Dewhirst, principal; Katie Decker, assistant principal; Charles Stephan, Wendy Scattergood, Steve Westergan, Heather Watney
+ Bass: Mark Urness, principal; Susan Sullivan, assistant principal, Matthew Jahnke
+ Flute: Kortney James, principal; Angela Erdman, Beth Kinzel
+ Oboe: Leslie Outland-Michelic, principal; Stuart Sutter, Ethan Wege
+ Clarinet: Hakeem Davidson, principal; Dylan Bonn, Sarah Manasreh
+ Bassoon 1: Susan Lawrence McCardell, principal; Carl Rath, Barb Wagner
+ Horn: Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, principal; Philip Klickman, Andrew Parks, Keith Powell
+ Trumpet: Adam Gaines, principal; Dan Marbes, Jamie Waroff
+ Trombone: Kevin Collins, principal; Kyle Siegrist
+ Bass trombone: Eric High, principal
+ Tuba: Steve Wildar, principal
+ Timpani: Elizabeth DeLamater, principal
+ Percussion: Bill Sallak, principal; Scott Elford, Marisol Kuborn, Mason Lee, Terry Smirl
+ Weidner Philharmonic Advisory Committee: Luis Fernandez, Randall Meder, Michelle McQuade Dewhirst
+ Weidner Philharmonic Personnel Manager: Michael Dewhirst
NEXT: “The Nutcracker,” with Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization, Nov. 25-27.
THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.
THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner spoke slowly and carried a big idea. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner admitted his eyes welled once when driving to a performance and seeing a green sign along the highway: WEIDNER CENTER.