Concert celebrates Ensemble X's 20th anniversary

Twenty years ago, a musical collective of Cornell and Ithaca College faculty joined together to create an ensemble dedicated to presenting new musical works, and Ensemble X is still going strong. On Sunday, April 15 at 8:00pm at Barnes Hall, they will perform the blockbuster concert of their season in celebration.

“This concert is our way of saying thanks to the Ithaca community for twenty fun years of adventure, celebrating what makes our music lives vital moving forward,” said Xak Bjerken, director of Ensemble X.The concert features an arrangement of works from the last 20 years dedicated to the legacy of the late Given Foundation Professor of Music Emeritus Steven Stucky, a founder of Ensemble X.

One concert highlight will be the performance of Jonathan Harvey’s Bird Concerto for Pianosong. Written in 2001 for solo piano and an ensemble of 17 players, the piece utilizes special electronics and recorded birdsongs. Harvey wrote of his work “Birds embody not only the joy of endless singing but also the freedom of the body's flight. The orchestra, like the birds, would have to wing its way through the bright air. Birds also use quasi-electronic frequency modulation in their cries and songs. I took their hint and copied their tricks in the electronic modulations of the orchestra.” 
Ryan MacEvoy McCullough will perform the soloist role, playing both piano and the electronic birdsong samples. Even though the work was only written 17 years ago, the hardware originally used is no longer supported by current technologies, and the piece calls for a specific synthesizer from the 1980s. To ensure the composer’s original intent is conveyed, special instruments were tracked down and files rewritten for compatibility. McCullough says, “It is amusing to call this ‘historical piano practice.’ Instead of a 250-year-old instrument, it’s a 25-year-old instrument.”
The birdsong also connects to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as dozens of songs have been recorded there. Harvey continued a tradition begun by French composer Olivier Messiaen, which continues today at the Cornell Lab.
The concert also features a concerto performance by Bjerken in Grammy and Academy-Award-winning composer Stephen Hartke’s Ship of State, and the ensemble will showcase Cornell alumnus Christopher Stark’s True North. A pre-concert talk with Bjerken, McCullough, Stark, and Hartke will begin at 7:30pm.


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 Ryan McCullough leaning on the open piano