What’s in a Band?: On the Road with the Eastman BroadBand

This past November, the Eastman BroadBand performed six concerts in four cities during a rapid-fire one-week tour. After preview concerts in Rochester and New York City, the ensemble flew to Guanajuato, Mexico, to perform three consecutive programs at the Festival Internacional Cervantino, the country’s most visible arts and cultural festival. Before returning to the states, the BroadBand performed in Mexico City at the Conservatorio Nacional. The programs featured some contemporary classics by Silvestre Revueltas, Olivier Messiaen, and Luciano Berio, but also marked the premieres of new works by the ensemble’s conductor Juan Trigos and its artistic directors Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez.

Video by Reed Nisson

As the ensemble’s flutist, I’ve worked with the group on many of its other projects: programs in Italy and Mexico, a recording on Bridge Records, and a series of concerts alongside the Garth Fagan Dance Company. But on this trip, I had the special opportunity to reflect on my experiences as I prepared these posts. It is my hope that this feature will offer some insight into the uniqueness of our group and its repertoire, and an account of the special experience of performing on tour with my closest friends and some of the most talented musicians in the field.

I had originally hoped to report on the project from the road, but our busy schedule left virtually no time for practice, let alone for writing. At any rate, most of us hardly had the opportunity to consider the significance of the project until after we had departed and returned to our routine lives—so please forgive the very long silence since my first post in this series! Now, the series has been posted in its entirety, and the intention is that readers may consider the project from many angles at once. Posts in this series are not organized according to the chronology of the trip; instead, each discusses a different aspect of the ensemble, its repertoire, and the tour. It is my hope that the reader can navigate the series as he pleases, without running the risk of loosing the connective thread.

The entry below outlines the details of the tour on a day-by-day basis, so simply read on for a summary of our latest project in broad strokes. Then, for deeper reflection on the BroadBand’s trip and its music, read interviews with the composers whose works we performed, and my reflections on the experience of rehearsing and touring with the ensemble (see sidebar at right).

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Monday, November 1
New York City—Concert at Miller Theater at Columbia University

Our bus leaves Eastman for the Rochester airport at 4:00 a.m., and we arrive in Newark, New Jersey, four hours later. We drop our bags at the hotel and head into the city. Before we rehearse, all members of the group must secure the necessary clearances to enter Mexico as distinguished guests. The trip to the Mexican consulate is painless—and in the lobby we entertain ourselves comparing the unflattering photos on our new visas.

We separate and grab some lunch before we meet again at the Miller Theater. In the dressing room before rehearsal, everyone’s talking about the Hungarian bakery just down Amsterdam Avenue. Some of us share bites of the pastries we brought back to the theater after lunch—others of us do not. After a short dress, we rest before the concert.

The program features Silvestre Revueltas’s chamber work Planos, along with Baljinder Sekhon’s Fanfare and Juan Trigos’s Ricercare VI, a concerto performed by guitarist Dieter Hennings. Tony Arnold is featured in two songs from Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon’s Comala, a cantata on the text of Mexican author Juan Rulfo. Pianist Cristina Valdes and percussionist Michael Burritt perform Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s double concerto, …Ex Machina. Burritt also performs a work for solo marimba, Kahn Variations by Alejandro Viñao. Arnold is joined by tenor Scott Perkins and baritone Tom Lehman for NiñoPolilla, Zohn-Muldoon’s operetta about an impish boy who is visited by a terminal disease. As penance for his mischief, the boy disintegrates into a fit of coughing and sneezing.

The concert is followed by a reception for Eastman alumni and friends. Catching up with old colleagues who’ve moved to New York since graduation is refreshing. Many of them are working on exciting musical projects of their own, and managing to make a respectable living. Too soon, a bus arrives to shuttle us back to the hotel.

We get back to Newark after midnight. We have to be up at 3:00 a.m. the next morning. It seems futile to sleep, but it’s hard to resist.


Tuesday, November 2
Guanajuato, Mexico—Arrival at the Festival Internacional Cervantino

We leave the hotel, this time just before 4:00 a.m. Our flight from Newark to Bajio-Léon Airport stops briefly in Houston; having landed in Silao, we take a bus into Guanajuato. Despite having slept for a total of seven hours in two days, everyone gets a third or fourth wind when we land and feel the sun on our shoulders. Sweaters and jackets come off, everyone starts to smile. On the bus, more and more of us talk about skipping a nap and exploring the city instead.

The ride into Guanajuato is fascinating. Little valleys on either side of the highway are studded with colorful houses. To access the city, the bus drives through a confusing network of dim tunnels—repurposed colonial sewers. We arrive at our hotel, Mesón de los Poetas, to find that it’s a curious maze itself, spiral staircases leading to indoor balconies, bright hallways that circle back on themselves, interior windows opening onto unexpected parlors. As we pair up and settle into our rooms, we can hear the surprised and excited voices of other members of the group in rooms down the hall or around the corner. Some of us explore the stairs and passages until we find the roof—and the vista is incredible.

Over enchiladas at dinner, someone remembers the delicious pastries at the Hungarian bakery on Amsterdam, and it’s hard to imagine that we were there just the day before. After a short evening rehearsal, we all get more sleep than we have in days.


Wednesday, November 3
Guanajuato, Mexico—Concert at the Auditorio de Minas

Before rehearsals in the morning, a dozen of us wander to a sunny shop selling conchas, churros, palmiers, and a number of unfamiliar pastries we sample out of curiosity. The little cups with sweet cheese inside are a favorite, along with the flaky, flat, glazed pastries, called campechanas, that explode on the first bite.

We meet in the hall for a short dress rehearsal and sound check before the concert. The program features Sekhon’s Fanfare, Revueltas’s Planos, Zohn-Muldoon’s Comala Songs, and Sanchez-Gutierrez’s …Ex Machina. Juan Trigos’s Sinfonía No. 2 closes the program, a work written for the occasion of our tour, and a Mexican premiere.

Thursday, November 4
Guanajuato, Mexico—BroadBand Soloists’ Concert at the Salón del Consejo Universitario

Soprano Tony Arnold opens the program with an incredible performance of Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III. Burritt plays Viñao’s Kahn Variations for solo marimba, and is joined Valdes for the world premiere of a duo for piano and drum set by Emmanuel Ontiveros, Ámbar. Guitarist Hennings performs Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No. 10 for guitar and tape, and I join him for Toru Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea for alto flute and guitar. Valdes delivers a memorable performance of Messaien’s solo work, Petites esquisses d’oiseaux. To conclude the program, Arnold and I, along with percussionist Sean Connors, perform George Crumb’s Madrigals, Book II.

The program is received well by a large, enthusiastic audience. Much of the performance is recorded by the Mexican television network Once TV. Highlights and interviews with the soloists are aired in the evening, and the program is reviewed by a few Mexican critics.

Following the concert, rehearsal runs late into the evening. The following night’s program features some of the most difficult works in our repertoire, including Sanchez-Gutierrez’s newest work, Five Memos. Some of us remain in the hall even after rehearsal has ended, touching up the piece in a sectional.


Friday, November 5
Guanajuato, Mexico—Final Concert at the Auditorio de Minas

Our final concert in Guanajuato opens with Michael Burritt’s Rounders, a driving percussion quartet. Hennings is featured in Trigos’s Ricercare VI, which followed by Robert Morris’s Roundelay. Sanchez-Gutierrez’s Five Memos closes the first half. Soprano Arnold and harpsichordist Josephine Gaeffke are featured alongside Hennings in an unlikely triple-concerto, Pluck. Pound. Peel, by Zohn Muldoon. Arnold is joined by tenor Perkins and baritone Lehman for NiñoPolilla.

Following the program, we all meet up for some well-deserved drinks and dancing. On the dance floor, the group is divided into two clear classes: students and teachers. The best dancers are patient with those of us who want to learn, and eventually it seems that we have exhausted every possible combination of partners. The consensus is that the best dancers of the night are Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon’s two nephews who have come to the festival from Guadalajara. Conductor Juan Trigos comes in a close third. When we get back to the hotel, some of us linger on the roof a while, looking out at the white lights studding the narrow valley.


Saturday, November 6
Mexico City, Mexico—Concert at Silvestre Revueltas Hall at the Conservatorio Nacional

The early-morning bus ride from Guanajuato to Mexico City is long, but it gives many of us some time to rest and catch up on work. Others of us play chess or word games. We arrive for lunch and a short dress rehearsal.

The hall at the National Conservatory is named for Silvestre Revueltas, so performing Planos there is a special treat. The program also features Arnold’s rendition of the Sequenza, Zohn Muldoon’s works Pluck. Pound. Peel and NiñoPolilla, Sanchez-Gutierrez’s …Ex Machina, and Trigos’s Sinfonía No. 2. As an encore, Hennings and I perform the final movement of Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea. It’s a special privilege to get the last word in this week-long series of concerts—and it’s especially a pleasure to wrap up the tour on a mellow, sentimental note.


Sunday, November 7
Rochester, NY—Return to the Eastman School of Music

This time, our flight leaves in the afternoon, and many of us get to sleep in. Others spend the morning lingering at brunch, catching up on work, getting some exercise. Paseo de la Reforma is closed for runners and bikers this morning, and a few members of the group arrive for brunch in the dining room in their running gear. We talk a little about settling back into our normal lives, but still the reality of the trip back seems comfortably distant—the eggs with nopales, the fresh papaya and mango, the melon water all make the States seem far, far away.

Having cleared customs in Newark, some of us meet up at a bar near our gate just before last call. I try to think of something cheerful to toast, but I don’t want to force it. The conversation is just a little melancholy. We arrive in Rochester near midnight and catch a final bus back to Eastman. We exchange goodbyes in the cold. There’s a common refrain as we all release warm handshakes and hugs: We should do more of this. Soon.

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About the Eastman BroadBand

Formed at the Eastman School of Music by composers Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, the Eastman BroadBand is a flexible group whose aim is to explore the many facets of contemporary music-making. Its programs focus on the music of our time, placing a special emphasis on the music of living Mexican composers. Among the Eastman BroadBand’s appearances are those at the Joyce Theatre with the Garth Fagan Dance Company for the New York premiere of Fagan’s Edge/Joy, at the SpazioMusica Festival in Cagliari, Italy, and as resident ensemble at the 2008 Festival Internacional Chihuahua in Mexico. The principal conductor of the ensemble is Juan Trigos.

The following performers comprised the BroadBand on its most recent tour to the Festival Internacional Cervantino 2010 in Guanajuato:

Soloists:
Tony Arnold, soprano
Michael Burritt, percussion
Josephine Gaeffke, harpsichord
Dieter Hennings, guitar
Tom Lehman, baritone
Scott Perkins, tenor
Cristina Valdes, piano

Orchestra:
Deidre Huckabay, flutes
Jessica Smithorn, oboe and English horn
Isabel Kim, clarinet
Andrew Brown, clarinet and bass clarinet
Eryn Bauer, bassoon
Sophia Goluses, horn
Nikola Tomic, trumpet
Peter Fanelli, trombone
Hanna Hurwitz, violin
Abby Swidler, violin
Felix Ungar, viola
Mariel Roberts, violoncello
Julia Shulman, bass
Eun-Mi Ko, keyboards
Cherry Tsang, piano
Sean Conners, percussion
Amy Garapic, percussion
Mark Boseman, percussion

Juan Trigos, conductor
Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, artistic directors