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NCKP 2019 PEDx9 Preview: Crossing the Divide: Latitude 49 and the Evolution of Chamber Music
Blending the finesse of a classical ensemble with the drive and precision of a rock band, members of Latitude 49 come together from across the United States and Canada to bring dynamic performances into venues large and small. Our diversity of experience is our strength: a variety of thought, background, and aptitude enhances what we can create together. From our varied careers as orchestral performers, chamber musicians, university professors, and soloists, each member of the sextet brings a lifetime of musical expertise to the group, affording limitless creative possibilities. With our name taken from the parallel along the Canadian/United States border, Latitude 49 seeks to serve as a bridge between artists, composers, and listeners of today.
Bob Dylan was on to something when he said, "The order is rapidly fading … the times, they are a' changing." The career paths that have been traditionally followed by classically trained musicians are in a state of evolution and upheaval. For many players, the previous reality of "attend a conservatory and then play in an orchestra" is no longer an option—or even a desire. The twentyfirst century and the rapid development of technology has renewed an artistic focus on communication, collaboration, and innovation. Gone, too, are the days when traditional instrumentations served as the only viable option for performing chamber music: the string quartet, piano trio, woodwind quintet, and brass quintet are still alive and well, but so is the reed quintet, the Messiaen quartet, the harp quartet and the "Pierrot plus" ensemble. Latitude 49 offers a variation on even these nascent themes, bringing together six disparate instruments in a way that feels fresh and unique: violin, cello, clarinet, saxophone, piano, and percussion—six wildly different sound worlds, six catalysts for innovation and change, with only one direction in which to head: forward.
Chamber music is indeed the most dexterous and flexible form of musical collaboration there is, and that adaptability speaks to the current needs of contemporary musicians. Latitude 49 can adapt to perform in most any venue, whether that be urban clubs, modern art museums, middle school classrooms, bar back rooms, or traditional concert halls. This fluidity allows us to reach a wider audience, and to take chamber music back into the chamber and the classroom. We've taken great advantage of this by performing in a wide variety of spaces, ranging from the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, New York City's (le) Poisson Rouge, the Toledo Museum of Art, the New Music Gathering, and Detroit's Strange Beautiful Music festival, in addition to a wide range of schools and universities across North America.
Similarly, we have the capacity to shrink to smaller subsets or expand to foster large-scale collaborations. One exciting example of this is our recent work with the Chicago Fringe Opera company on a fully-staged production entitled Love Wounds. Featuring an evening of new and established works by our composer-inresidence, Rome Prize winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Cerrone, this production gave us pause to consider the deepest matters of the human heart. For Love Wounds, Latitude 49 was joined by members of Chicago Fringe Opera to present an evening in which song, dance, instrumental music, opera, and above all collaboration shone brightly. This collaboration not only stretched the audience, but the performers as well: members of Latitude 49 were choreographed as an essential part of the production on stage rather than residing in a pit out of sight. Throughout the evening, we were challenged to consider how we love and live, the spaces between us, and the scars our affections leave behind.
This desire for collaboration extends to the relationships we build with the next generation of composers. Latitude 49 affords a composer the opportunity to play and explore in our very own new-music sandbox, where the possibilities are endless and the process is full of joy, curiosity, and friendship. We especially love to enter these creative spaces with emerging composers through educational residencies. We have recently had the opportunity to do this in places like Baylor University and SUNY Fredonia, where we participated in readings of new works by student composers and had the chance to dialogue with them about their craft, and at Princeton University, where our three-part residency includes the workshopping of new works by Princeton students and faculty and their subsequent performance on the Princeton Sound Kitchen series. In 2018, we crossed another exciting milestone when Latitude 49 gave the world premiere of "these (were) used to harm" by our very own Chris Sies, the ensemble's percussionist and a gifted composer in his own right. Our aim is to empower composers everywhere to experiment wildly and think vividly, and to offer dynamic performances of these works for a diversity of audiences. We simply relish every opportunity to enter that creative space alongside composers and work together toward a collaborative future. It is in this way that we collectively create musical artifacts of our own time, reflecting the human experience of today and expressing it through art.
Our deepest commitments as an ensemble are to the music and to each other. We are a family of musicians, fully committed to one another as both artists and human beings. This, of course, is one of the great powers of chamber music: to bring disparate people face to face, and to build bridges between them. Transcendence is always the goal, and it is the crossing of barriers that guarantees chamber music a vibrant future. Latitude 49 has always been about chasm-crossing (after all, unity is in our name), and this mission continues as we strike out into a bold future. Forthcoming seasons will include our most daring work yet: brave and intimate collaborations with some of today's brightest composer-performers, the release of our sophomore album Wax and Wire, and a whimsical evening-length program entitled PLAY that runs wild like a tripped-out high school musical and blurs the lines between composer, performer, and audience. These are but a few of our upcoming collaborations, and we aim for many more just like them. Like the greater contemporary music scene to which we belong, our best days are indeed ahead of us. The music of our time deserves an audience, and we remain keenly interested in acting as a facilitator in that discussion. After all, "The order is rapidly fading… the times, they are a' changing" and Latitude 49 offers a compelling vision of what that future may look like.