A trio of woodwind artists recently traveled from different parts of the country to perform in the Utah State University's Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art. The exhibit space where the PEN Trio performed is incomplete, which was intentional.
The stage is arranged so the audience surrounds the PEN Trio’s performance. The trio is situated in front of a back drop of paintings, sculptures and prints based on lessons of Abstract Expressionism.
One of the pieces is called “Bowl” by Paul Soldner. It’s a ceramic piece that is grey and white. It’s smooth at the base and curves upward into a bowl shape. But instead of an opened top, this piece has a lid of cracked clay covering the top interrupted by a square hole. Soldner is known for emphasizing interactions with clay to create the unexpected.
While the visual arts is one medium of exploration- the PEN Trio has been commissioned to perform several works of music based on unique ideas and inspiration. With all three artists living in different states Nora Lewis, Phillip O. Paglialonga and Eric Van der Veer Varner are also creative with the way they prepare for performances.
“Every piece of music is different and sometimes what looks like a great idea on paper just doesn’t work," says Phillip O. Paglialonga. "Or sometimes it just takes some dialogue to figure out what exactly the composer is trying to do. Then we adapt that and make it come alive.”
“For a premier that’s coming up this November," adds Nora Lewis, "we have very little rehearsal time together and it’s a very very technically demanding and intricate piece. In that case we’ve been working independently with a program called Smart Music so we can basically use a metronome through all of the different metric shifts. So we can have a really good understanding of the score. In this case there’s not very much leeway with changing the score from what we have right now. So I would say the process really depends on the composer and the timeframe for performance.”
Each of the musicians is a professor at different colleges, and, as instructors they have found the process of teaching and performing can be quiet different, but also have similarities.
“I think that in teaching we focus a lot on fundamentals and we end up repeating ourselves a lot. Good advice bears repeating. I think as a group we can usually dispense of the basics like that,” said Eric Van der Veer Varner.
“The more I follow my own advice the better off I am," says Nora Lewis. "I think sometimes it’s easy to try to take shortcuts and to not necessarily think that after a certain point we don’t have to practice as slowly as our students or play scales every day but in fact we do. The level that we are at those fundamentals never go away that we’re still working on the things that we are working on with our students.”
While performing on the clarinet, oboe and bassoon the trio featured works written specifically for them. Composer Jenni Brandon’s Found Objects: On the Beach we hear what seems to be the ocean tossing stones in the waves, creating patterns on the ocean floor before the materialize on the sandy beach. The piece concludes as objects come together completing the process- similar to the process of the exhibitors and artists who used the venue to combine the works of the PEN Trio with the displayed art to demonstrate process.