If an ensemble’s name offers a clue about what and how it performs, then loadbang is apropos for four musicians based in New York City.
Founded in 2008 at the Manhattan School of Music, the quartet offers a grouping of instruments you don’t see often on stage – even at a new music festival like the adventurous Festival of New American Music.Instead of a quartet of strings, loadbang is lung-powered: Andy Kozar on trumpet, Adrian Sandi on bass clarinet and William Lang on trombone, with the voice of bass baritone Jeffrey Gavett.
The musicians have made a mark in the world of music, with composers lining up to write them new works, some of which will be part of loadbang’s FeNAM appearances, including its debut today at the gala performance that kicks off the 37-year-old festival at California State University, Sacramento.
“As far as I know, before we started no one had ever written a piece for trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet and baritone voice,” said Kozar.
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The emphasis for loadbang is on new works, some just recently penned. The ensemble has commissioned 200 new works for what seems just as many composers. The unusual orchestration, especially with a voice in the mix, is the draw for some composers,
“It’s sort of a clean slate for composers for what’s possible,” said Kozar. “Because writing for a traditional instrumentation can be somewhat limiting.”
Festival co-director Keith Bohm, who booked this year’s FeNAM, said loadbang’s unusual orchestration appealed to him.
“There’s not another ensemble like them in the world,” said Bohm. “The unique instrumentation of bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone and baritone voice opens up a plethora of possibilities compositionally. It allows for a variety of timbres, inflections, textures … and a unique language of improvisation.”
Challenging the dogma of classical music is part and parcel of FeNAM, where at the inaugural festival in 1977 the world was introduced to the reimagined stringed instrumentation of the now-influential Kronos Quartet. But loadbang’s maverick approach is not meant as an end run around the traditional chamber repertoire.
“I think the string quartet is not going anywhere,” said Kozar. “These were combinations that were beautiful to work in and write for in the 17th and 18th century — and they still are.”
But times and tastes have changed. Kozar said he sees a trend in which composers are more than eager to write for unusual arrangements of instruments.
“I could imagine there could be a lot of baggage if you’re writing a string quartet and everyone else is writing a string quartet, said Kozar.
For its appearance tonight, loadbang will perform the West Coast premiere of two movements of “Six Haikus” from composer Andy Akiho, a virtuoso steel pan percussionist.
“His music is rhythmically vibrant,” Kozar said. “He’s interested in playing games with that.”
In “Six Haikus,” commissioned in 2011, baritone Gavett does not sing but performs as a percussionist. As the piece develops, each of the other three musicians switch from their instruments to percussion instruments.
Another piece, “Waiting for the Man,” written in 2008 by composer David Lang for the newly formed loadbang, mines the lyrics of a Velvet Underground song of the same name.
“Instead of arranging it the way that Velvet Underground did, Lang took Lou Reed’s text and reset it to his own music,” said Kozar.
The music for Saturday’s concert will be demanding. The performance will open with a new work by Charles Wuorinen – “Alphabetical Ashbery” – a single-movement work that mines the poetry of John Ashbery.
A work by Scott Wollschleger is set to “What is the Word,” a poem by Samuel Beckett. The text is dedicated to a friend suffering from a language disorder that includes losing the ability to speak, read or write.
The quartet finds itself in rare territory, earning income from performing what it commissions and with a full slate of works set to perform next year and beyond. Other composers will have to wait in line for commissions, Kozar said, as loadbang is already planning some of the works it will perform in 2018.
“Our goal,” he said, “is to continue on the path we’re on now.”
Call The Bee’s Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.
37TH ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF NEW AMERICAN MUSIC
When: Today-Nov. 16
Where: Music Recital Hall, CSU Sacramento, 6000 J St., Sacramento and other venues. Most performances are on the CSUS campus, Check the schedule for specifics.
Cost: Free; parking free after 7 p.m. in parking structure next to Capistrano Hall
Information: (916) 278-5191 or www.csusedu/music/fenam
Friday: Gala performance, featuring loadbang, pianist Lara Downes, and the Rootstock percussion trio, 8 p.m.
Saturday: loadbang, 8 p.m.
Sunday: Lara Downes and the Del Sol String Quartet performing works by Mohammed Fairouz, 8 p.m.
Monday: Keynote address by Mohammed Fairouz with the Del Sol String Quartet, noon
Wednesday: Fidelio Trio, 8 p.m.
Nov. 14: Mana Quartet, 8 p.m.
Nov. 15: Faythe Vollrath, harpsichord, 8 p.m.
Nov. 16: Charles Spruill and Michael Riesman, piano, 6 p.m.