I just returned from Boise, Idaho after listening to a concert played by Jen Drake and the Darkwood Consort. Last year they commissioned me to write a piece for viola, bass clarinet and strings for their ensemble, and it seems that my devotion to writing pieces based on Hans Christian Andersen stories and the Danish-loving nature of their ensemble (not to mention their bass clarinetist) was a perfect fit, and their performance of my setting of "The Ugly Duckling" was really spectacular. They also performed another setting of an Andersen story that I wrote for viola, bass clarinet, piano, and narrator called "The Happy Family" about the last surviving members of a family of snails (yes, escargot) that lived in a burdock forest. Jen's husband Chad was the narrator (he made me cry), and Karlin Coolidge played the piano on "The Happy Family" and the flute on the array of Danish treat music that balanced out the program.
The whole experience was wonderful, and I was particularly blown away by Jen's tremendous energy, her ability to connect with her audience, her ability to be enchanting both as a person and as a player. She prepared an ensemble of high school string players who sounded like professionals.
Playing major and even minor viola repertoire in big cities is wonderful, but my hat goes off (and my heart goes out) to people like Jen Drake and Aage Nielsen (the bass clarinetist) who can create a whole new repertoire for their instruments, and do it in a city far away from the major cultural centers of the country for an audience of people who understand and appreciate precisely how special the whole thing is, and knows just how lucky they are.
Technorati tags: classical music, Boise, music in Idaho