Get high with music

Musiqa season soars to new heights with more than modern-day commissions — alien affair included

Musiqa season soars to new heights with more than modern-day commissions — alien affair included

There's a quirky contrariety between how big budget symphony orchestras and professional theater companies program their seasons. If you were to parse through their playbills you would find that the majority of oeuvres presented by classical music ensembles are of the past whereas thespian troupes prefer works of the present.

Why is that? Is it that people believe they can only relate to things that they know?

Musiqa Houston's co-founder and artistic director Anthony K. Brandt is aware that audiences attend classical concerts to hear music they've heard before. Whether that's a circumstance of listeners' exposure, of seeking a comfort-food type experiences or fear of not grasping what's happening on stage, Brandt uses that preconception to his advantage and shifts the paradigm to create a different type of artistic environment — for a different type of listener.

"In many cases, they're the first people anywhere — or certainly among the first — to hear what we're playing," he explains. "That's very special and unique. In its own way, it's like welcoming a new child into the world. We thank our audiences for taking these risks with us and believe that if we present first-class, committed and engaging performances, then hearing new music can be a thrilling and life-changing experience."

For Musiqa 2012-13 season, the five-member artistic board, which comprises local composers Brandt, Karim Al-Zand, Pierre Jalbert, Marcus Maroney and Rob Smith, continues to challenge the idea of a typical concert.

 "It's our hope that the music and other art forms — poetry, dance, film and theater — are knitted together in ways that make each concert a compelling whole."

It's about letting go of the predictable overture-concerto-big-piece structure and opting to fashion an event "Where the Arts Intersect," the tenor of the progressive company's 11th season.

"This season, we've striven to integrate the inter-disciplinary aspects of the program more tightly together," Brandt says. "It's our hope that the music and other art forms — poetry, dance, film and theater — are knitted together in ways that make each concert a compelling whole."

And when that's executed well, the aural-cum-visual adventure is heightened for anyone who decides to activate their senses. It's like getting art from all directions. 

What could go wrong with that? An out-of-body experience? Like getting high?

About that: "Deep Sky Objects" (Sept. 22) opens the season with two world premieres, one of which includes a collaboration with choreographer and ballet master Tina Bohnstedt and Houston Ballet II, a company made up of emerging ballerinas and cavaliers of Houston Ballet. Musiqa commissioned its visiting composer Sebastian Currier to set text by poet Sarah Manguso, who writes about an intergalactic love affair; Manguso will be at the concert to offer a reading. Deep Sky Objects is scored for soprano Karol Bennett, piano quintet and electronics. 

Mused by two movements from Currier's Quartetset, Contemplative is Bohnstedt's contribution to this program. Complementing the musicale are Pierre Jalbert's piano quartet Secret Alchemy and a series of violin-piano preludes by Lera Auerbach. A crowdsourcing funding campaign has been set up through Power2give to underwrite the costs of the inaugural presentation.

"Percussive Illusions" (Jan. 12) is aptly titled as it welcomes the University of Houston Percussion Ensemble to the Musiqa stage. In the program are Maroney's energetic Pantheonscored for 12 percussion players, a world premiere by Brandt, works by Lukas Ligeti and Anders Koppel, and films curated by Aurora Picture Show.

"One of the films we'll screen on our January concert was created by composer Thierry De May," Brandt says. "His wonderfully fun and original Table Music for three sets of hands is also on the program."

"World Play" (April 6) ushers more that its share of new for Musiqa. The nonprofit conspires with 2012 Blackburn prizewinner Jennifer Haley to commission a one-act play with incidental music by Brandt. Adding to the excitement is yet another world premiere by Rob Smith for string trio, Quelque Fleurs by Al-Zand and a fresh work by Dutch avant-pop composer JacobTV.

If you are looking for a more informal setting to lounge and listen, try the free Loft Concerts at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Musiqa incorporates elements of the essence of what's on view at the museum and produces a one-hour intimate recital featuring local and visiting musicians.

"Surveys (from the Cape of Good Hope)" (Oct. 4) focuses on music by South African composers as a tie to the exhibition Jane Alexander: Surveys (from the Cape of Good Hope). "Radical Presence (Dec. 8)" presents performance artist Shaun Leonardo and links to Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. "Parallel Practices" (April 25, 2012) places emphasis on the artistic inner-circle of Joan Jonas while nodding to the exhibition Parallel Practices: Joan Jonas and Gina Pane.


Season subscriptions are available starting at $42 to $99; seniors and students from $21 to $49.50. Tickets to individual performances start at $20, and can be purchased online or by calling 713-315-2525.

Musiqa, August 2012, Musiqa performance image, lighting design by Jeremy Choate
For Musiqa's 2012-13 season, the five-member artistic board continues to strive to challenge the idea of a typical concertin integrating different art forms to make each concert a compelling whole. Lighting design in this photo by Jeremy Choate. Courtesy of Musiqa
Musiqa, August 2012, Sebastian Currier
Sebastian Currier is Musiqa's visiting composer for the season.  Photo by © Jeffrey Herman
Musiqa, August 2012, Sarah Manguso
Poet Sarah Manguso writes about an intergalactic love affair. Her text is set to music by Sebastian Currier in Deep Sky Objects. Photo by Andy Ryan