Doors at 6PM
Advance $29 | At the Door $34
About the Show
Composed for seven bassoons, Rushes takes its place alongside Michael Gordon’s Timber for expanding the boundaries of a single instrument’s repertoire into unknown (and at times, otherworldly) spaces. Like Timber, which maps new percussive territory for the simantra—a simple two-by-four slab of wood, amplified and played in a group of six to yield trance-like sonic textures—Rushes brings out tonal and timbral aspects of the bassoon that are meant to induce a quasi-meditative, almost ecstatic state, in the listener as well as the performer.
"Years ago I pursed my lips and blew into a bassoon, and felt the entire instrument buzz as I droned on the very bottom note, a B flat. I held the long conical piece of wood in my hands with admiration — it was covered with what looked like a New York City subway map of shiny metal keys running every which way. The bassoon had heft and it was primal — the two reeds vibrating against each other produced a poignant and mournful sound.
It all came back to me on a cold sunny Thursday in January 2011. Five bassoonists set up in my living room. Along with 25 other bassoonists from far and wide, they had banded together and asked me to write a new piece. I’m not sure any of them imagined that my response would be an hour-long work for seven bassoons.
In earlier conversations with Dana Jessen, the American bassoonist who initiated this project, I had asked to look at all the influential bassoon music written in the 20th century. Dana showed up with just a small pile of music. I felt a little bit like Magellan. I knew there were worlds to find if I could just set sail.
During that Thursday afternoon, we explored a myriad of sounds and my living room was filled with an exquisite buzzing of dark tones. I was particularly drawn to the short percussive attacks by all the bassoons in counterpoint with each other. The texture had the aural effect of a Seurat painting, and I began to write for the instruments as if they were participants in an extreme sport — a non-stop barrage of ethereal rapid-fire points of sound that seamlessly shifted from one instrument to the next. This architectural movement of sound, which runs throughout the entire piece of music, is a technique that I first used in Timber, a percussion work for six amplified simantras. I imagined entering these waves of moving sound and embarking on a journey through a stark monochromatic landscape that slowly revealed its hidden colors.
The score, with tens of thousand of notes, looks a bit like an Escher drawing or a very long weaving pattern for a loom. In June 2012, in Edisto Island, South Carolina, I met with the seven bassoonists of the newly formed Rushes Ensemble. As we rehearsed, I thought that the piece had become like the thick river winding its way through the marshes and reedy growth surrounding us. I had already settled on the name Rushes, both for its reference to the reeds and to capture the mental state it produced. Now, with the seven bassoonists fully immersed in the music, I felt the primordial flow of sound harkening back to the very first reeds."
— Michael Gordon
Making their debut in 2012, the Rushes Ensemble consists of bassoonists Dana Jessen, Michael Harley, Jeffrey Lyman, Rachael Elliott, Saxton Rose, Lynn Hileman and Maya Stone. A new force in contemporary music, this unique septet of bassoonists is dedicated to expanding and diversifying the future of bassoon repertoire through commissioning projects and collaborations. The ensemble takes its name from Michael Gordon’s Rushes, a sixty-minute work for seven bassoons commissioned through the New Music Bassoon Fund. The Rushes Ensemble released the premiere recording of Michael Gordon’s Rushes on Cantaloupe Records in March 2014. Recent engagements include performances at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in New York, the November Music Festival in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, University of Michigan’s Stamps Auditorium, Amsterdam’s Ostadetheater, the Hague’s Korzo Theater and a Belgium National Radio Broadcast performance at the Concertgebouw Brugge.
Michael Gordon’s music merges subtle rhythmic invention with incredible power embodying, in the words of The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, “the fury of punk rock, the nervous brilliance of free jazz and the intransigence of classical modernism.”
Over the past 25 years, Gordon has produced a strikingly diverse body of work, ranging from large-scale pieces for high-energy ensembles to major orchestral commissions to works conceived specifically for the recording studio. Transcending categorization, this music represents the collision of mysterious introspection and brutal directness.
His orchestral and chamber works include Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Sunshine of your Love, Potassium, Industry, The Sad Park, and Trance, among others. Works for theater and opera include What To Wear, Acquanetta, Lost Objects, and Van Gogh. He has also had numerous collaborations with artists in other media, most frequently with filmmaker Bill Morrison and Ridge Theater.
Gordon has been commissioned by Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the BBC Proms, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Settembre Musica, the Holland Music Festival, the Dresden Festival, and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival, among others. The recipient of multiple awards and grants, he has been honored by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Born in Miami Beach in 1956, Gordon holds a bachelor of arts from New York University and a master’s in music from the Yale School of Music. He is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music collective Bang On a Can. His music is published by Red Poppy Music (ASCAP) and is distributed worldwide by G. Schirmer, Inc.