Fireworks Ensemble presented a uniquely American, 21st-century vision of chamber music for Montgomery audiences in February of 2011. With a repertoire featuring Frank Zappa’s instrumental rock, American music favorites, dance music from around the world, and a rock-inspired version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Fireworks proved to be a flexible chamber ensemble that could literally play anything, regardless of genre, vintage, or orchestration. Each Fireworks program spotlighted a particular aspect of today’s music and presented a wide variety of musical styles with a common voice.
Fireworks’ mission was to bring its vision of contemporary chamber music to new audiences through its charismatic educational activities and virtuosic, high-energy performances and that it did. For Opening Night, Fireworks came armed with an instrumental arsenal including kazoos, slide whistles, a vocoder, drum machines, a virtual big band, and more.
The eclectic first half of their “Dance Mix” program presented audiences a virtual survey of Western dance music, ranging from the ancient sounds of peasant lutes and viols of the Medieval “Istampita Palamento” to the modern, atmospheric electronics of Aphex Twin’s “Analogue Bubblebath,” and including just about everything in between, ending with some good old-fashioned disco, the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever classic, “Stayin Alive.”
Part Two of the program started in Africa and then shifted to Argentina, home of the legendary tango master Astor Piazzolla. After stops in India, for the seductive sounds of Bollywood, audiences enjoyed a brief excursion up north, to the serene and expansive landscape of Norway for a chillingly beautiful suite of traditional folk dances. A gypsy joy-ride followed, with the the tour making its way back home, finishing with Aaron Copland’s thoroughly American cowboy romp, “Hoe-Down.” It was truly an evening of spirited fun for dance music lovers of any age.
For their second program, Fireworks presented a fantastic program combining Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring with the music of one of America’s great musical talents, Frank Zappa. The music of early 20th-century composers, especially Varese, Bartok, and Stravinsky had a profound effect on Zappa, and the influences of these composers can be heard throughout Zappa’s music, not only in his extraordinarily complex music for traditional “classical” ensembles, but also in his rock music. Whereas Stravinsky’s infusion of folk tunes into his orchestral music helped to give pieces like “The Rite” their visceral, vital flair, Zappa’s use of the modernist compositional devices borrowed and adapted from composers such as Stravinsky give his rock pieces a level of sophistication and richness rarely found in popular music. Though primarily known for his rock music, Frank Zappa was a phenomenally gifted composer whose work bridges the worlds of classical and popular music like no other. As a composer of serious “classical” music, Zappa’s music stands along side the most challenging and complex of the twentieth century, and has been championed by major classical ensembles and orchestras. As a rock musician, Zappa was a guitar hero and a popular music icon, selling thousands of records and touring throughout the world. For Zappa, it was all just MUSIC, no matter if it was played by an orchestra, a jazz big band, or a rock group. Refusing to limit himself to the conventions of any given genre, Zappa embraced and combined these disparate strands of the sonic universe to create unified musical expressions of incredible depth and originality. Zappa’s work presents a vision of music without barriers of style or genre, a model that Fireworks emulated well. On a list of musical categories, Zappa’s music is truly “None of the Above.” Fireworks’ presented a collection of some of Zappa’s most significant contributions: his challenging and vibrant works for instrumental rock ensemble. Equally daring both in their sophistication and vitality, these highly virtuosic and uniquely American works proved that the rock band could be a powerful vehicle for serious composition. Fireworks gratefully acknowledged the Zappa Family Trust for their continued support and help in bringing this project to fruition.
Before Fireworks ever hit the ground in Montgomery, ClefWorks was busy preparing potential Brahms and Beethovens for the Ensemble’s February visit. Using funding from the Alabama Arts License Tag Grant Program, ClefWorks engaged MSO cello fellow Laura Usiskin to plan a series of lessons for local children at Flowers Elementary School and the YMCA GoodTimes Program. Visits from local classically trained musicians introduced kids to instruments used by members of Fireworks, familiarized them with basic musical concepts, and gave them an opportunity to listen to the music they heard during Festival Week.
The entire Montgomery community enjoyed a free American concert at Hampstead Farms, featuring music that ranged from America to Phillip Glass to Aaron Copland’s Simple Gifts.
The was indeed a week of gifts – from musicians to the community, from ClefWorks volunteers to musicians and from supporters like Bravo Sponsor Regions Bank to ClefWorks. ClefWorks thanks its Concert sponsors the Lowder Family Foundation and LWT Communications. We also proudly welcome back the Alabama State Council on the Arts as a patron. A portion of the ClefWorks Ignited! season was made possible by a recent grant from ASCA and the National Endowment for the Arts.