I bought a CD at the Dayton Art Institute last night
Doing so wasn’t something I’d planned, but I got an email yesterday from the Dayton Art Institute reminding me that their first Twilight Concert was that evening, and I didn’t anything better to do, so I went. The program didn’t look especially interesting—it just listed “Gem City Chorus” and “Jeremy Collins, guitar”—but I live right across from the DAI and have a membership, so I figured I might as well go.
I walked over early so that I could stop at Leo Bistro for a drink and a bite to eat before the concert. Leo Bistro is the DAI’s fancy new bar/café, replacing their old Café Monet and in a much better location, at the front of the building off the rotunda, where the gift shop used to be. Leo Bistro’s run by the same people who own Roost Modern Italian, and the food, although limited in selection, is good. During the DAI’s flood exhibit I would walk over to have dinner at Leo Bistro about once a week, but since that exhibit closed, evening traffic at the museum’s been a bit sparse (lunch is still hopping though), and so Leo Bistro has reduced its evening offerings to a short bar menu. I had a glass of Casa Bianchi Malbec and the pepperoni and mozzarella arrancini.
That put me in a good mood for my stroll through the permanent exhibits—during which I did not encounter a single person although I did spy a large group of women in a cloister—on my way to the Renaissance Auditorium for the concert. It might have been because of the big media frenzy about the coming derecho, but not many people came to the concert. I know the audience was outnumbered by the 50 or so members of Gem City chorus, and I suspect we may also have been outnumbered by the museum staff as well.
I snagged a seat in the middle of the second row, which turned out to be an excellent choice because the concert turned out to be all acoustic. A poor woman struggled with a couple microphones for about 10 minutes before the concert but finally gave up. Actually performances in the Renaissance Auditorium don’t really need amplification (I know, having sung there with the Dayton Gay Mens Chorus). It’s a fairly small space and we were a rather small audience.
That was the setup for the best part of the evening. The featured guitarist, Jeremy Collins, was on stage directly in front of me, so it was like having a private recital just for me.
Collins did his first piece, “Winter Dream” from his CD of the same name, in the dark. I guess the same woman who couldn’t manage the microphone also wasn’t up to the challenge of the lights. Collins mentioned being at a competition once where the power went out and a fellow competitor did his entire performance in absolute pitch black. We still had some light coming in from the doors on either side, so we could still see Collins, but the darkness made the performance seem even more intimate.
What we couldn’t tell from DAI’s rather sparse description on its website and in its email was that “Jeremy Collins, guitar” is actually a classically-trained guitarist as well as a composer. Think of a violinist’s vibrato and you’ll have some idea of how Collins plays guitar. “Winter Dream” was his own composition, made even more interesting because, as Collins explained, he adjusted the tuning of his strings for the piece, adjusting one a half tone down and another a full tone up (or something like that). I played violin in elementary school through high school but had never heard of non-standard tuning—the Suzuki Method doesn’t cover scordatura. Whether because of the alternate turning or just because it was classical guitar well played, I very much enjoyed Collins’s music.
The stage lights finally came up, and Collins did three more pieces. His other pieces weren’t his own compositions. The first was “Fandango” from “Tres Piezas Españolas,” by Joaquín Rodrigo and was what you might expect of Spanish guitar music. The second was “Elegy” by Alan Rawsthorne, who died while composing it (Collins said it was uncertain who completed it but Wikipedia says Julian Bream did)—it was a touch modernistic for my tastes. The last was “Introduction and Caprice” by Giulio Regondi, who Collins explained was rather noted for composing guitar pieces that were difficult to play, perhaps because guitars were smaller when Regondi was composing. I liked this piece very much as well. And that was it—the rest of the concert was the Gem City Chorus, although I’d have been happier if it’d been all Jeremy Collins.
Not that the Gem City Chorus was bad, but I wasn’t enchanted by them. Choral music can be fun if you’re part of the group singing or if the jokes are geared towards you (as those by gay choruses are towards me), but the Gem City Chorus jokes about men thinking women can’t drive well or about hearing aids fell on deaf ears as far as I was concerned. The woman who’d (luckily) been unable to set up a microphone for Collins did manage to set one up for the chorus, but fortunately it wasn’t on while they sang, only as various chorus members came up to do various bits of explanation. Given the loudspeaker’s horrible tinny sound (like a public address system, not a theatre’s sound system), they’d have done better to have avoided the mike and instead just spoken clearly and loudly. I did particularly like one of their songs, a rendition of Melissa Manchester’s “Come In From the Rain” sung by their “large quartet” comprised of 7 of their section leaders.
So after the concert I decided to buy a CD, Winter Dream, from Collins. I liked what I’d heard of his music and wanted to hear more, and I felt a little sorry that he’d trekked up from Cincinnati for such a small turnout. If you’re curious about scordatura, you should definitely check this CD out as each of his pieces on it use different tuning. You can read more about Collins and some background on the compositions on Winter Dream in this MasterWorks Festival interview with him.
And you should definitely come to the Dayton Art Institute for one of these concerts. Worst case it’s just a pleasant diversion. Best case you might learn something and discover something fun.