Impromptu concerts to set stage for Decoda performance

The celebrated Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall, Decoda is set to perform on campus. Before their main concert, they will play a number of spontaneous shows around campus to drum up excitement. Photo courtesy of Vassar Music Department
The celebrated Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall, Decoda is set to perform on campus. Before their main concert, they will play a number of spontaneous shows around campus to drum up excitement. Photo courtesy of Vassar Music Department
The celebrated Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall, Decoda is set to perform on campus. Before their main concert, they will play a number of spontaneous shows around campus to drum up excitement. Photo courtesy of Vassar Music Department

“Be on the lookout for a roaming bassoon!” wrote Concert Administrator Amy Kawa of the Department of Music at Vassar College. Kawa’s caveat is not to be taken lightly.

The Department of Music presents Decoda, the first ever Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall. Based in New York City, Decoda will perform on Saturday, April 9 at Vassar and also complete a three-day residency on campus later this week.

Decoda is a chamber ensemble dedicated to experimental performances and captivating proj­ects. The group is a prestigious one—performing at Carnegie Hall and beyond. Their initiative has taken them to the global stage of performance art. Decoda has traveled to Abu Dhabi, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, Germany, Hong Kong, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Denmark.

Decoda is rooted in the more unassuming of virtues—education and community. They have shared these virtues on a variety of stages, includ­ing schools, hospitals and prisons.

Kawa expressed enthusiasm on behalf of the Department. “The music department is thrilled that Decoda will be returning for another three-day residency at Vassar from Thursday, April 7 through Saturday, April 9,” wrote Kawa. She wrote, “Last year’s visit was a great success with Decoda coaching and performing not only in Skinner Hall, but all across campus.”

Professor of Music Eduardo Navega expressed similar sentiments. He wrote, “Last year the De­coda came to Vassar for a three-day residency and a concert and it was such a success that we decid­ed to have them back this year. They are a vibrant group of young musicians and their performances are of a very high level. They will be coaching all of our chamber groups. As they did last year, they will be doing short surprise performances all over campus to invite people to the concert on Satur­day night.”

Kawa offered a brief glimpse into the concert’s content. Kawa noted, “Among other works, the concert will feature pieces by two of the Decoda musicians–Nathan Schram and Brad Balliett–and a world premiere of a Duo for bassoon and clari­net by our own faculty member Richard Wilson.”

According to Kawa, the group will be quite busy on campus. She wrote, “This year they will be coaching our chamber music students, reading some original student compositions, giving sever­al pop-up performances on campus in previously unannounced locations, and performing a final formal concert in Skinner Hall on Saturday eve­ning.” This, indeed, includes roaming bassoonist Brad Balliett.

Balliett is a bassoonist and composer based in New York City, most notable for his innovative and scintillating performances and compositions. He is also the principal bassoon of the Princeton Symphony, was formerly the acting principal of the Hartford Symphony and has appeared as prin­cipal bassoon with the American Ballet Theater and Houston Symphony.

Balliett will perform alongside fellow Decoda member Nathan Schram. Additionally, Balliett will be performing Professor of Music Richard Wilson’s “Reed Actions,” a world premiere of a duo for bassoon and clarinet.

Balliett spoke about his thoughts on the pre­miere piece and the preparatory aspect of the process, by and large. Balliett wrote, “Preparing this program has been particularly exciting for Decoda, because it involves a number of pieces which we have never played before, including the premiere of Vassar composition faculty Richard Wilson’s Reed Actions for clarinet and bassoon.”

He continued, “Since this performance will be the world premiere, of course we have never worked on it for previous concerts. The piece is quirky, entertaining and impeccably crafted, but also quite challenging. Our strategy has been to go over each section very slowly and work it up to the proper speed over many repeated iterations. In this way, we hope to give a performance that is both perfectly accurate but also full of life and musical depth.”

Interestingly, Balliett will perform yet anoth­er world premiere: a woodwind quartet of his own. Balliett expressed anticipation in regards to his world premiere. He wrote, in an emailed statement, “My woodwind quartet is also a world premiere, which makes this a very exciting con­cert for me, and I hope it will be exciting for my colleagues as well—it is always fun to bring a new work to life. I wrote this quartet for wind instruments—oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn—last summer while playing chamber music at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont.”

The performance will also feature a visual component. Balliett resumed, “The piece presents a series of characters, a kind of parade of danc­ers, represented by different types of music, al­though all of the musical material is derived from a very small set of motives. I asked my friend Will Storie, a very young artist whose work I respect immensely, to provide a visual representation of these characters in his own inimitable style. These drawings will be projected while the quar­tet performs.”

As community is one of Decoda’s chief virtues, the College becomes an ideal platform for Deco­da to not only achieve its objective but also share the pillars of its art—experimentality, musicality and performance. According to Balliett, “We will be performing in some non-traditional venues around campus, and visiting a variety of class­es—music and non-music alike—during our vis­it.” He continued, “Decoda’s goals always include providing a high-caliber performance and events that serve the surrounding community. Coming to Vassar is especially satisfying because the school is very welcoming, and gives us the opportunity to interact with a wider band of the school popu­lation than just the concert-going audience.”

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