On Friday, violist Nadia Sirota and composer/producer Alexander Overington performed a one-hour set billed as both a viola recital and a demonstration of how to make great radio in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall. Sirota is an up-and-coming violist whose debut album, First Things First, was named a record of the year by The New York Times. Overington lives in New York City, where he opened his own music studio and went on to co-found the record label Rest Assured.
While the program did involve some wonderful music performances, several aspects of the performance were unique and differed substantially from a typical viola recital.
The two performers co-produce Q2 Music’s Meet the Composer podcast, which features contemporary composers, who are interviewed on the show and asked to share the stories of their careers and early influences. Podcast material was edited and cleverly woven into last week’s performance, allowing Sirota and Overington to combine the elements of live musical performance with the journalism and research components of their radio work. The result of this synthesis was something that was both original and quite engaging.
Sirota opened up the concert by performing Nico Muhly’s “Etude no. 3.” The sophisticated and modern-sounding piece allowed Sirota to showcase her tremendous talent and control over her instrument. Overington sat at a computer, where he produced an electronic accompaniment to Sirota.
After the introductory piece, Sirota transitioned from the role of violist to that of radio host, taking the audience through the lives and experiences of three different composers: Caroline Shaw, Marcos Balter and Muhly. Sirota began each presentation by introducing the songwriter as though she was live on air. Then Overington would play recordings from the interviews, with Sirota intervening at certain times to make additional and poignant points.
Once the interview segment had finished, Sirota would perform a work by the composer who had just been showcased; these were, in order, “In Manus Tuas,” by Shaw, “V. Machinery from Codex Seraphianus” and “Ut” by Balter and “Keep in Touch” by Muhly. Each work had its own unique contemporary sound but also contained classical-sounding elements. This was not incidental; in a question and answer session after the concert, Sirota herself said that she hopes to promote classical music through her performance of modern works.
We enjoyed the virtuosic talent of Sirota while also being exposed to what was, for many of us, a new kind of sound. The amalgamation of radio-style commentary, live music performance and recorded interviews made for a satisfying experience.
This approach created the sense that the composer of each work was present in the concert hall, giving each performance an intimate and accessible feeling that a more straightforward performance of works by non-contemporary composers might lack.
Sirota and Overington combined the disparate parts of their work into a harmonious whole, creating a final product that was a kind of musical composition all of its own.