A rocking classical music concert? Welcome to the world of DJ Sparr


Guitarist DJ Sparr

Photo: courtesy

Headbanging at classical music concerts is generally frowned upon. However, that rule may need to be revised after “Still Life With Avalanche,” an evening of tranquility and chaos brought to MATCH on Friday by Houston’s Aperio, Music of the Americas.

Again, chamber music that calls for wah-wah riffs and searing electric solos doesn’t happen very often, but it does on “The World Within”, a world premiere and one of two tracks from the Friday’s program by Maryland-born composer and guitarist DJ Sparr. A fan of Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen and other top rock guitar virtuosos, Sparr poured that admiration into the piece, giving himself a guitar solo for each of his four moves.

“I’m glad you used the word ‘shredding’,” he winks.

“One of the things that I find very cool and very engaging about this piece is that it’s a very clearly contemporary mood that relates to the spirit of the electric guitar era, the spirit of rock and roll”, declares the president of Aperio. and artistic director Michael Zuraw, one of two pianists in Friday’s ensemble. “These are moods that are not alien to the rock star spirit, and it combines the idea of ​​the rock star with the classic ensemble.”

Indeed, “The World Within” isn’t Sparr’s first rock-influenced work for Aperio, who performed his “The Glam Seduction” in 2018. (The composer also attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester , NY with Aperio secretary/cellist Daniel Saenz. ) Zuraw thinks his dual nature fits perfectly with the rest of the program, which also includes works by Arvo Pärt, Sarah Kirkland Schneider, Missy Mazzoli and the native by Spring Anthony Joseph Lanman. In fact, Sparr will also appear on Lanman’s “Hammer and Nail,” an electric guitar and piano duet.

“All of the pieces in this program capture that juxtaposition and that irony of the duality of an emotional state,” says Zuraw. “I don’t even know if there was any intentional grouping like that, but the program really came together to capture music from composers who compose that way and pieces that have that spirit.”

The no man’s land between classical music and popular music has never been so fertile. Metallica once recorded an album and, years later, a concert film with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood has been nominated for an Oscar for composing Jane Campion’s ‘The Power of the Dog’. The Houston Symphony will perform the music of Led Zeppelin and Whitney Houston for a single weekend in June. “Still Life With Avalanche” belongs to a smaller room in this mansion, possibly the attic.

“That’s really where contemporary composition exists now, in that spectrum between the popular and the totally esoteric,” says Zuraw. “A piece like this actually brings in so much just from that liminal space between those easily definable styles. It’s about tapping into so many of them, packaging them, and delivering them to the public.

‘Still life with avalanche’

When: 7:30 p.m. on April 1

Or: MATCH, 3400 Main Street

Details: $35; 713-521-4533; aperioamericas.org

The hope is, he explains, that familiar elements in otherwise off-limits compositions will serve as gateways for listeners to enjoy.

“We find things that are familiar to us, even among things that might be new to us, and that’s how we really navigate that realm,” Zuraw continues. “We find new flavors, but we accept them because they are accompanied by something that is a little more familiar to us, so it brings us into this contemporary era. [classical] kingdom with a little more ease.

Elsewhere, Mazzolli’s main piece – which came after the death of a close relative shattered his cocooned home in an artist’s retreat in upstate New York – illustrates how, in relation to music of 40 and 50 years ago, “one of the things that is very What is remarkable now is that composers use all the techniques, all the possibilities, all the instruments, and they do it to show greater emotional depth,” says Zuraw.

“We use it to show how music is always connected to everything we all go through,” he adds. “And there’s an emotional connection to the piece that I think is palpable.”

Chris Gray is a Galveston-based writer.


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