Spoleto's Music in Time series makes classical music sexy again 

Time Will Tell

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Julia Lynn

Spoleto's Music In Time series is best known for boasting a healthy dose of contemporary classical music — and this year is no different. The program offers music by composers from the U.S. and around the world, showcasing a staggering array of styles and ensembles.

The four-part series features each program only once; here's a look at the concerts in chronological order.

"Tempus Fugit" kicks off the Music In Time series on Sun. May 28. "This particular concert is focused mostly on very recent pieces including music by some relatively younger composers," says John Kennedy, director of the series.

Italy's Luca Francesconi, Estonia's Helena Tulve, and Argentina's Jose Manuel Serrano are included, and the music will be performed by members of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra and led by conductor Jeffrey Means.

For those unfamiliar with contemporary classical music, you may experience textures and harmonies altogether new, a soundscape of inventiveness that tests your sensibilities. But Woolfe Street Playhouse is an ideal venue for such exposure. "You can sit at a table, you can have a drink, and you can hear this music that's very new, performed in a setting in which it's really tactile and accessible," says Kennedy. "I actually think it helps the listening to be in a more relaxed environment."

There may be those who attach a certain stodginess to classical music. That's not the case here. "This is music that sometimes has an air about it of being in a more formal or academic setting," says Kennedy, "and yet it isn't like that in its earthiness and in its communicative capacity."

The second program in the series, "Sounding Peace," held once again at Woolfe Street Playhouse, takes place on Wed. May 31.

It's a program celebrating the centenary of American composer Lou Harrison. "Lou Harrison was one of the first western composers to really study musical traditions from around the world and not just appropriate them," says Kennedy. "In the 21st century, in a much more global culture, younger composers are really influenced by many musical traditions and in a sense, Lou Harrison was one of the great pioneers in showing us how to do that."

The program will feature some of Harrison's iconic music along with contemporary composer Ted Hearne, and Jonathan Holland, whose piece "Synchrony" interweaves sound recordings into the music and is a response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I think juxtaposing them with Harrison works, because of Harrison's own sensibility about the earth's people being one and not divided," says Kennedy. "And for me, seeing how that spirit emerges in the music of younger composers is an important thing to highlight."

"Dialogues with Pedja Muzijevic," the third installment of the Music In Time series held on Thurs. June 1 at the Simons Center Recital Hall features pianist Pedja Muzijevic. Muzijevic has been a presence at Spoleto for years, taking part in the Bank of America Chamber Music Series, and Kennedy saw this as an opportunity to really showcase his talents. "He has such a following at the festival," says Kennedy. "This is what he does in his life outside of Spoleto so let's give him a chance to do it here."

Muzijevic will play four Haydn sonatas interspersed with three modern works. "It's a program that really fits the spirit of Music In Time in how he's juxtaposing some contemporary works with some music of the past and helping us think about music beyond the constraints of time."

It may seem like an odd mix, but by placing these extremely different pieces side by side the listener can hear the music anew. "One of the things I think that is Pedja's objective is that the music has a chance to be heard in a different way and that the connections are probably more similar than dissimilar."

The final program in the Music In Time series, "Lecture on the Weather," held on Mon. June 5 is a piece John Cage wrote for the USA's bicentennial in 1976. "Cage intended it as a reflection of who we are as an American people," says Kennedy. "And the piece is pretty timeless, relying on texts of Henry David Thoreau's and some of Cage's own from 1975. It's very much a meditation, not just on American culture but on the place of people in relation to the earth and the natural world."

Sounds pretty relevant, right? Kennedy is well aware of the issues this piece raises and how important they are to today's society. "It speaks to us not just on cultural levels but even on issues of environmentalism and what's going on with global warming," he says. "There are things to take away from it at any point in time, but I think at this particular time it's even more relevant than ever."

This program will also feature Canadian composer Anne Southam's "Natural Resources," a piece for percussion, found objects, and as Kennedy puts it, "some instruments found in nature."

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