The National Gallery of Art New Music Ensemble came together in March 2010 holding its premiere concert in the Atrium of the I. M. Pei architectural wonder, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Composer Steve Antosca — noted for his extensive record of catalytic collaborations — was invited by Stephen Ackert, head of the NGA Music Department, to create the NGA nme, and he is its Artistic Director. With composer Roger Reynolds, he assembled a group of performers from across the US and from Europe. Its members possess virtuosic performance skills and the ability to comfortably perform with cutting-edge technology designed specifically for each of their concerts.
Formed to present modern music in the Gallery’s non-traditional spaces, NGA nme presents concerts at the inviting intersection of music, art, and technology. Presentations join innovative music with technological resource, and place an emphasis on unique environments aimed at enhancing the audience’s experience. The ensemble’s performances integrate the strategic placement of musicians across performance spaces, with enhancements in the form of real-time computer controlled transformation and the spatialization of sound.
Past events have included path-breaking concerts in the NGA East Building Atrium: the premiere of composer Reynolds’s Seasons: Cycle 1 at the March 2010 CHANGES:seasons concert. The Washington Post (March 9, 2010) noted that, “squeaks and growls”, “a flutter-tongued purring and avian tittering”, and “frantic jingle” became “a digital whirr or whine or whistle”, [that] sped around the space like a comet trail.” In March 2011, the Gallery’s 70th Anniversary concert for the West Building included the premieres of Antosca’s in everyway I remember you and echoic landscape. The Washington Post (March 16, 2011) called it “a spectacular, wonderfully provocative” concert, which transformed the Rotunda into “an immense temple of sound, presenting a program of theatrical new works that married humans with computers, and ancient myths with contemporary aesthetics.”
In upcoming seasons, the NGA New Music Ensemble will bookend a September 2012 Festival celebrating the Centennial of John Cage’s birth, and will present an additional concert concentrating on Cage works in September of 2013 in support of the Gallery’s Crown Point Press exhibit, which includes Cage etchings.
As part of the Spring 2013 NGA American Music Festival, the ensemble will present a concert of the music of Jeffrey Mumford on February 3, 2013. That Fall, the ensemble celebrates the 35th Anniversary of the East Building with the premiere of HABITAT, a major work for percussion, video, and computers, composed by Steve Antosca and presented in the East Building Atrium. In Spring 2014, the NGA nme will be joined by Washington-area harp and saxophone duo, Pictures on Silence, to present a concert of chamber and video works.
Percussion Group Cincinnati is particularly respected for its knowledge of and experience with the entire range of the music of John Cage. They made tours and festival appearances with him on a number of occasions in Europe and in America, and had pieces created by Cage especially for them. The first installment of their contribution to the series of Mode Records’ integrated set of the complete music of John Cage -- the Landscapes and Credo, released in April ’11 – was an Editor’s Pick in Gramaphone magazine and chosen amongst “Ten Best of 2011” by The Wire.
The Group has developed similar special relationships with Herbert Brun, John Luther Adams, Qu Xiao-Song, Mark Saya, Russell Peck, and with Larry Austin on the Charles Ives Universe Symphony project. Recent trips have included the Shanghai International Spring Music Festival, and premiers of three new concertos written for them: in Hong Kong a work by Qu Xiao-song, in Singapore with the Singapore Traditional Chinese Orchestra, and the most recent by Mexican composer Enrico Chapela. Over the past 30 years, many young composers from the United States, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia have created a large body of new and often experimental music for the unique talents of Percussion Group Cincinnati.
The group's work appears on various CDs, including their own ars moderno label; their recording of John Luther Adams’ evening-length “Strange and Sacred Noise” was released in surround-sound by Mode and they are currently at work on a 30-year retrospective multi-disc set including performances from the group’s entire history.
Among these are the world premiere of Roger Reynolds’s Sanctuary at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC in 2007 and the American premiere of James Dillon’s epic Nine Rivers cycle, in collaboration with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in 2011. Besides the Miller Theatre and the National Gallery of Art, red fish blue fish has performed at Lincoln Center, the Henry Street Settlement in New York City, the Agora Festival in Paris, the Centro des Bellas Artes in Mexico City, the Taipei International Percussion Conference.
eighth blackbird invited red fish blue fish to join them at New York’s Park Avenue Armory for an appearance on the Tune-In Festival in February of 2011. Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times reported, “The highlight [of the concert] was a riveting performance of John Cage’s early masterpiece Credo in Us, scored for two percussionists, piano and a record player or radio.” During the following summer, red fish blue fish collaborated with Peter Sellars and Dawn Upshaw in premiering the staged version of George Crumb’s The Winds of Destiny. Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “The arrangement of eight songs are for soprano, four percussionists (red fish blue fish, never better) who play 102 different instruments….”
Its recordings of Xenakis and Reynolds percussion chamber music on Mode Records have been praised by critics around the world, and new recordings to be released in the 2012-2013 season include compositions by Stockhausen, Scelsi, and rare works of Xenakis. Philip Clark wrote in The Wire about its comprehensive Xenakis recording, “Mode never deals in anything less than impeccable sound and … the San Diego percussion ensemble Red Fish Blue Fish plays with a devotion to detail and inner fire.”
In early September 2012, red fish blue fish returns to Washington for four concerts of percussion music together with Percussion Group Cincinnati at the John Cage Centennial Festival Washington, DC. Their Cage Festival programs will feature works included in the soon-to-be-released 10-disc box set of the complete percussion works of John Cage on Mode Records.