Composers Rachel Grimes & Daniel Gilliam. Photo courtesy WUOL
90.5 WUOL New Lens Series:
Rachel Grimes, NouLou Chamber Players, and Special Guests
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
About a year ago, Daniel Gilliam, who serves as a host on Classical 90.5 WUOL, conceived of an idea that would bring focus to local classical musicians and artists in a new and exciting way. In discussions with 21C’s Museum Manager, Karen Gillenwater, New Lens was created.
This past Sunday, New Lens presented its second concert that featured works by local composers Rachel Grimes and Daniel Gilliam. Yes, besides being a radio host, Mr. Gilliam is a composer of renowned.
In the Atrium of 21C Museum, it was literally standing room only, as people lined the stairs and filled the atrium and the adjoining alcove almost to the brim. Also, it was wonderful to see other Arts leaders in support as well, such as the Louisville Ballet’s Robert Curran.
The evening began with three of Mr. Gilliam’s works: Apropos (2017), Soliloquy (2016), and Variations. Apropos was written during a time at the Copeland House in 2017, where he spent weeks submerging himself into music. Mr. Gilliam shared that Apropos was written as an homage to the close relationship that Aaron Copeland and Leonard Bernstein had as both friends and musicians.
A piece that has such a significance in respecting two of the greatest musicians of the last 100 years needs a skilled musician that can find the emotional line within. Lucky for the composer Louisville is gifted with many such artists and for this evening we were treated to Louisville Orchestra’s own Teddy Abrams tickling the ivories. With Mr. Abrams’ deft approach and Mr. Gilliam’s skillful writing, it was not hard to hear Apropos as a conversation between the two musical giants: disagreements, discussions, and laughter.
While a bit of a different feeling, Soliloquy sounded pretty much exactly as the composer described it, similar to a lullaby. With comforting falling note lines and an ever-present bass line, the piece was restful and peaceful.
Originally written in 2015, Variations was given a revamp in 2019. This evening’s presentation was a multi-disciplinary endeavor as we watched the Louisville Ballet’s Ashley Thursby and her partner (sorry, his name was not on the program and I could not hear it when Mr. Gilliam stated it) perform new choreography almost in tandem with stunning nature-centric video work by Milan Misko. Rachel Grimes assumed her place at the piano and was joined by the NouLou Chamber Players along with special guest Carrie RavenStem, clarinetist with the group A/Tonal. On the whole, Variations was very introspective and even terse at times but also surprised with hauntingly beautiful harmonies. I believe I recognized some Copeland appreciation when I heard snippets of Appalachian Spring coming forth a couple of times.
If you are not familiar with Rachel Grimes as a classical composer, you may know her from her previous life as a member/founder of the well known indie-rock chamber ensemble Rachel’s. You could often catch them at the old Tewligans, or perhaps you own one of their six recordings. Since then she has become a much sought after musician and composer who tours extensively.
Last season, the Louisville Orchestra featured one of Ms. Grimes’ works, a tapestry of Kentucky family history. This evening we were treated to two pieces: Selections from Music for Egon Schiele (1995) and The Clearing (2011).
Egon Schiele was an Austrian expressionist painter who studied with Gustav Klimt, who is well known for figurative paintings and sexualized portraits, including his own. In the selections, Ms. Grimes brings musical ideas to some of Schiele’s works such as Family Portrait, Egon & Gertie, First Self-Portrait Series, Third Self-Portrait Series, and Egon & Edith.
Flanked by two of the NouLou Chamber Player instrumentalists, violist Laura De St. Croix and Cecilia Huerta-Lauf on cello, Ms. Grimes served as pianist. Utilizing the viola and piano throughout most of the selections, I couldn’t find a single note or pattern that I couldn’t get lost in. The cello often sounded like an organ grinder and served well as the all-important keeper of the lower register.
The evening closed with all of the NouLou Chamber Players, including violist Laura De St. Croix, joining Ms. Grimes around the piano with The Clearing; an unusual piece that starts with a singular note on piano that quickly turns into a rolling chord with an interlude of strings to singular note, roll, a smatter of strings and then a shimmering harmony. The harmony is lovely and then a little discordance pops in with highly stressed chords but is gently resolved back to a happy finish.
All of the musicians and talent that walked upon the stage Sunday evening are of exceptional abilities.
The evening further proved that classical and new-ish music and artistry is still alive and well in and around the Louisville area and that we are flush with talented individuals who strive to share their talents with eager and willing audiences. If Sunday night’s standing room only crowd is any indication to the direction that New Lens is wanting to take, I believe that we are in for some satisfying audible treats.
Rachel Grimes, NouLou Chamber Players, and Special Guests
July 14, 2019
21C Museum and Hotel
700 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.