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This Week In Sarasota

by Leif Bjaland, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Sarasota Orchestra
September 2007

I attended a performance last Saturday whose energy and excitement echoed some of my most stimulating and memorable listening experiences. New Music New College started their series with a cabaret featuring the music of recent graduate Silas Durocher. Silas was there on stage, playing the electric guitar and singing with a sweet baritone reminiscent of Paul McCartney. He was joined by Florida West Coast Symphony musicians Bharat Chandra on clarinet and John Miller on bass. Sasha von Dassow was the cellist and Garrett Dawson, the outstanding set drummer. They were all excellent. Ron Silver’s sound engineering was great—very clear and not overpowering—it meshed perfectly with Silas’ intricate and nuanced music.

During the 70 minute performance I was struck with the way Silas has integrated disparate musical styles from Bartok to minor-toned Weimar style jazz to the Beatles to ethnomusics from Africa and the Middle East into a very distinctive musical voice. The songs were direct, but far from simple-minded. They were intimate–sometimes witty, sometimes poignant. They made you want to listen, to understand and be at one with the song. And the instrumentals had a kaleidoscopic sense of rhythm, with different tempos and rhythmic feels weaving in and out.

What I’ve written makes it sound as if the music was complex. Maybe a bit, but it was also incredibly visceral and direct. At times Silas’ artistic intent seemed to jump off the stage. The audience loved it. They were disarmed by the natural organic quality of the music making-it was so honest and so good. It’s great to see performers who are so completely alive and present on stage and to hear new music that is so fresh and original. The evening ended with an extended instrumental number which provoked a new age conga line of (mostly) New College students to circle the audience. What a gas! This spontaneous writhing mass of humanity made me dream of some future mosh pit of Beethoven, Berlioz and Stravinsky. The challenge for 21st century classical music is to match the exhilarating mix of great new material and superb execution in this performance. And also to replicate the powerful feeling that the music and performance was fully alive and actuated. For seventy wonderful minutes the audience and performers were drawn together and planted firmly in the here and now.

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