Students and guests investigate modern music at I/O Fest

The I/O Festival, now in its fourth year, is a celebration of music-making at the College. Through a series of new music concerts and events, the I/O Fest seeks to explore the full spectrum of today’s compositional trends. Held every year in January at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, the festival presents the College community with a complex array of music that challenges norms, breaks down boundaries and travels across various genres. The I/O Fest brings together students and guest artists to present both established and blossoming trends in modern composition. This year, the I/O Fest consisted of five different events, each with its own theme, beginning last Thursday and ending last Saturday.

After four days worth of events and concerts, the I/O Festival came to a close last Saturday with a final performance titled Currents, featuring the new student-run music ensemble IOTA as well as the New York based ensemble Contemporaneous. The IOTA ensemble program is curated, organized and performed entirely by students at the College. The group was founded in 2008 by Matthew Gold, artist associate in percussion, and Steven Bodner, late visiting artist-in-residence, to serve as the house band for the I/O Fest. Contemporaneous, which attempts to perform the most exciting music of this generation, was founded at Bard in 2010 in a shared program with IOTA. The two groups worked together to present a medley of the most cutting edge themes in music composition.

Currents opened with a performance by Casey McLellan ’14. McLellan is a student of music and chemistry at the College. Her piece titled “and just like that I stopped believing in particle physics” debuted for the first time during the show. A six-person ensemble played the staccato piece. It was jolting, but as the music mounted, its appeal grew and it served as a good introduction for the rest of the night. Following McLellan was Daniel Kohane ’12 with a piece titled “Fantasy for Violin and Piano.” Kohane originally composed “Fantasy” to play as a duet with his mother who plays the violin. The music was beautiful, with the sound of the violin rising and falling with the piano providing support in the background. The piece did, in fact, evoke a feeling of fantasy.

Next up, Peter Dodds presented “Heavy Water.” Dodds, a Chicago native, is currently pursuing a degree at the New England Conservatory. “Heavy Water” is an interesting piece of music, at some moments fast paced and dramatic and at others quiet and slow. According to Dodd, the composition “is divided into three sections, each of which deals with a specific rhythmic device.” D. Edwards Davis followed Dodds. Davis writes electronic and acoustic music. His piece titled “Retaining Wall,” “was originally written for a computer activated Disklavier” and received its “human premiere” at the concert. To understand the piece one has to understand the acoustic principle of “sympathetic vibration,” which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a vibration produced in one body by the vibrations of exactly the same period in a neighboring body.” Without this understanding the composition remains rather confusing.

The next performance pushed boundaries but also left the average, untrained audience member with more questions than answers. The piece titled “8:02,” by Jasmine Thomasian ’15, seemed to be more of a theatrical scene than a composition of music. The spoken repetition of “8:02” by five people, along with a clock ticking in the background, was intriguing and comical but seemed to be just noise rather than music. The next composition “Three Pieces” from Forgetting Places by Brian Simalchik ’10 combines piano and poetry. The piece sets “a poem from Lawrence Raab’s book The History of Forgetting, read by the poet himself and played back over speakers while the pianist performs.” This is an interesting concept that brings both the music and the poem to life. The final arrangement “Expansion – Chorals – Contraction” by Andrew Carrizo ’04 does as the title suggests. The music seemed to inhale and exhale along the melody.

Three composers, Dylan Mattingly, Marc Mellits and David Moore, performed the second half of the show. Following intermission, Mattingly’s three pieces were performed: “Nobody,” “Not Even the Rain” and “Has Such Small Hands.” Mattingly is co-artistic director of Contemporaneous at Bard. After Mattingly, Mellits’ work took center stage. Mellits is one of the leading American composers of his generation. The piece titled “Platter of Discontent” was a visceral moving arrangement that engaged the audience’s heart strings and brought them on a moving journey. Rounding out the show, David Moore’s “And Then It Rained” was a beautiful end to a great concert.