NOW Ensemble brings NYC to Mars

Thursday October 4, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Make room, Mars. New York City is coming. Musicians will transport it there.

The seven members of the NOW Ensemble will launch the metropolis and resettle it on the red planet on Tuesday as a highlight of their concert at Williams College. Their vehicle will be "Plan of the City," a film with live music accompaniment composed by Judd Greenstein, Williams ‘01, a member of the collective.

The program, which begins at 8 in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, also includes other contemporary pieces written for the ensemble, including one by Andrea Maz zariello ‘00. Joshua Frankel, Williams ‘02, who conceived and directed the film, will speak.

"Plan of the City" is a 13-minute animated collage showing New York architecture blasting off through space and rising up anew out of the Martian surface. The Empire State Building, a water tower and a subway train, along with the musicians themselves, make the extraterrestrial journey.

Greenstein will cue the action in the film to his music. His pop-driven score, "Change," was created in tandem with the film but can also be performed independently as a concert piece.

Like other new-music ensembles such as Bang on a Can and eighth blackbird, NOW is an indie group drawing on classical and pop styles. It was founded in 2003 by Yale music school students, including Greenstein.

"The guiding principle behind the group," Greenstein said, is that "you can build musical institutions that reflect your ideals and serve your interests, but also reach out to communities and audiences where they are."

The music should reflect contemporary culture for contemporary audiences, he said.

Greenstein came to Williams from Manhattan. He was already writing music by then, and he liked the prospect of working with faculty composer David Kechley and writing for new-music chamber and orchestral groups active on campus.

As far back as Williams, Greenstein recalls, he was a DYI -- " do it yourself" -- person, writing music and putting on concerts of his own and fellow students' compositions. At Williams, hundreds of students would attend these concerts, he remembered.

"The reason they did that was because we treated it not like it was some esoteric activity, but like something you should come see for the same reasons you go to anything else: Come support your friends, come have an interesting cultural experience, come see people that you know in the audience, come build a community around art. And then once you've come to that stage, you can engage with the art in a much more open and honest way," he said.

A visit by eighth blackbird during his junior year was pivotal. Going up to meet the players, he recalls, he discovered they were "a bunch of normal, friendly people who were going for it." Their example showed how he could create an ensemble.

A double major in music and political science, Greenstein knocked around New York for a year after Williams, composing and trying to find performance outlets. Frustrated, he went to Yale for a master's, but he encountered a similar frustration there.

Even though Yale was a "hotbed of new music," composers and the performers mostly went their separate ways, he found. In a series of coffeehouse meetings, he and some like-minded students hit upon the idea of forming their own ensemble and presenting concerts. The ensemble would have an "idiosyncratic" sound and combine acoustic and artistic elements in approach and personnel.

Out of that grew today's NOW Ensemble, consisting of a flutist, clarinetist, electric guitarist, pianist and double bas sist, plus two composers (Green stein being one).

Because no known music had been written for such a combination, commissions became a necessity -- more than 70 of them so far, Greenstein said.

NOW has performed at various venues in New York and around the country. They presented "Plan of the City" last year at Le Poisson Rouge, a new-music hot spot in New York. Other music alumni will give Williams concerts as the season goes on.

Like others in the group, Greenstein patches together a living with various jobs. His other work, all music-related, includes running a record company (New Amsterdam) and organizing festivals. Even though he won't get rich, he said, it's all stuff he loves to do.

"And you have a weird life that really looks strange on your tax return," he said.

What: NOW Ensemble performs new music

When: Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Where: Brooks Rogers Redital Hall, Williams College, Route 2, Williamstown

Admission: Free



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