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Preview: Atlanta’s new music ensembles gear up for inaugural SoundNow Festival

Bent Frequency's BF Duo Project (Jan Berry Baler and Stuart Gerber).
Bent Frequency's BF Duo Project (Jan Berry Baler and Stuart Gerber).
Bent Frequency's BF Duo Project (Jan Berry Baler and Stuart Gerber).
Bent Frequency’s BF Duo Project (Jan Berry Baker and Stuart Gerber).

This week will be a busy one for contemporary art music in Atlanta, as the inaugural SoundNOW Festival will take place April 4 through 10. Local new music ensembles engaged to play in the five-concert series include neoPhonia, Perimeter Flutes, Bent Frequency, Chamber Cartel, Clibber Jones Ensemble, Terminus Ensemble and Mercury Orkestar, plus DJ Skybison (aka Dylan Banks) and special guest duo Transient Canvas from Boston.

The idea for the festival was born back in late 2014, when Atlanta-based composer and Georgia State University music professor Nickitas Demos — who is also director of GSU’s neoPhonia new music series — and percussionist Caleb Herron, artistic director of new music ensemble Chamber Cartel, happened to both be at Manual’s Tavern one night after concerts by their respective ensembles.

“I floated the idea of trying to coordinate all of the new music groups in Atlanta to give concerts during one week in the spring of the following year,” says Demos. Herron was interested in the idea. While it didn’t come to fruition that quickly, Demos, Herron, and a handful of others met several times last year to discuss and plan such a project. The result was this spring’s SoundNOW Festival. To give its image a little more Georgia flavor, this inaugural 2016 iteration of SoundNOW has also been dubbed “Peachpocalypse.”

“I’m super excited that we were able to get together as many groups as we did to participate,” says Clibber Jones Ensemble leader and drummer Olivia Kieffer, another composer-musician who helped organize the festival. She and the others hope having the groups all play under the festival umbrella will help bring stronger focus and attention to Atlanta’s new music scene. 

Here’s a rundown of this year’s events:

Concert one: The festival opens tonight with a concert by neoPhonia and Perimeter Flutes at Florence Kopleff Recital Hall on the Georgia State University campus. The program, entitled A I R, explores contemporary music written for wind instruments. The neoPhonia ensemble will offer up premieres of compositions by four Atlanta area composers: David Brighton, Jim Stallings, Brent Milam and Nickitas Demos. The Perimeter Flutes round out the program with Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango,” as arranged by Nicole Chamberlain, and flute quartets by Michal Rosiak and Anze Rozman. Free admission.

Concert two: After a two-day hiatus, concerts will continue on Thursday, April 7 at 8 p.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA GA), with a performance featuring Bent Frequency’s BF Duo Project (made up of saxophonist Jan Baker and percussionist Stuart Gerber) with special guest Skybison. The concert features world premieres by Adam Scott Neal, Olivia Kieffer and Lowell Fuchs. It will also include the American premiere of Laurent Durupt’s “Persecutory Delusions,” and a performance of Dorothy Hindman’s “R.I.P.T.” Skybison will DJ before, during, and after Bent Frequency’s set. $10 admission.

Concert three: On Friday at 8 p.m., Chamber Cartel and Transient Canvas (bass clarinetist Amy Advocat and marimbist Matt Sharrock) will perform at the Downtown Players Club at 98 Broad Street SW, located a block and a half southwest of the Five Points MARTA Station. Chamber Cartel will perform works by Drew Baker and Peter Van Zandt Lane, and the world premiere of “So Small Against the Stars” by Nickitas Demos. Transient Canvas will perform works composed within the last two years by composers Aaron Jay Myers, Barbara White, Jeremy Barnett, Keith Kirchoff and David Ibbett. Admission: $10 suggested donation.

Concert four: One block west of that, on Forsyth Street, Clibber Jones Ensemble and Mercury Orkestar will perform a more rock-oriented new music concert at Eyedrum on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Mercury Orkestar, an Atlanta-based Balkan brass party band led by Erik Kofoed, will lead off the concert playing some if their familiar repertoire as well as several brand new tunes. Clibber Jones Ensemble will likewise perform a few of their older tunes that their audience will recognize, plus a brand new arrangement by Olivia Kieffer. CJE will also premiere three new works which were part of the group’s Composer Commission Project by Nicole Chamberlain, Nickitas Demos and Drew Dolan. $10 admission.

Concert five: The final concert will take place at 5 p.m. on Sunday at Kopleff Recital Hall, featuring Terminus Ensemble and Transient Canvas. Transient Canvas will open the program with works by Georgia composers, including Cody Brookshire, Peter Van Zandt Lane, and world premieres by the artistic directors of Terminus Ensemble: Sarah Hersh, Brent Milam and Adam Scott Neal. Terminus Ensemble’s performance will feature 22 one-minute-long solo miniatures by 18 regional composers from throughout the southeastern United States. Free admission.

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