When the bland, homogenized pop music spoon-fed to you by mainstream radio starts turning your stomach, you know it's time to get a little adventurous. One of the best opportunities to do this comes every year during UNM's John Donald Robb Composers' Symposium.
Every year since 1972, the university has hosted this event, making it one of the longest ongoing festivals of new music in the country. The symposium offers a chance to hear music unlike any you've ever experienced. It also presents panel discussions, lectures and various meet-the-composer events, allowing courageous musical explorers to delve even more deeply into the newest music currently being created.
This year, the symposium has something spectacular up its sleeve. The university, in collaboration with Outpost Productions, is bringing in one of the most outrageous pioneers of musical expression to be produced by this country in the last 50 years. Cecil Taylor is one of the towering figures of modern music. Generally associated with the jazz world, where he's often treated as a pariah, Taylor's compositions and performances are as deeply influenced by the great atonal composers of the classical tradition—Schönberg, Webern, Berg and company—as they are by Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus.
The sheer violent fury of his piano playing is an experience that anyone with an interest in experimental music shouldn't miss. Thankfully, we're all going to get that chance as part of this year's symposium.
Taylor will be in Albuquerque as part of a week-long residence for the duration of the Festival. This Saturday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m., the Cecil Taylor Trio will perform at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW). Tickets are $15 for the general public, $10 for Outpost members and students. They can be ordered by calling 268-0044.
There will also be screenings of a biography about Taylor at the Guild (3405 Central NE) on Sunday, April 3, at 3 and 5 p.m. That same evening Taylor will present a poetry reading at the Outpost Performance Space (210 Yale SE).
Cecil Taylor might be the big draw at this year's symposium, but it'll be well worth your while to check out work by other composers. As an added benefit, the rest of the events in the symposium are totally free and open to the public.
Among the highlights will be a performance of selections from John Donald Robb's folk opera, Little Jo, which is made up almost entirely of New Mexican folk songs. This will take place in UNM's Keller Hall on Monday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m., also in Keller Hall, you can catch performances of music by the likes of Barbara Rettagliati and Paul Lombardi, among others. That evening will also feature a free solo piano performance by Cecil Taylor.
Finally, on Wednesday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m., you'll be able to hear pieces by Christopher Schultis, the artistic director of the festival, along with work by Michael Mauldin, Scott Wilkinson, Falko Steinbach, John Bartlit and others. That evening's showcase will also feature an "electro-sonic" improvisation by Ellen Bank.
I don't have any idea what any of this music will sound like. That's one of the reasons I plan to attend. If you know what's good for you, you will, too.