Classical or “serious” music can appear to be the ultimate oldies tour. This may be in part because it enjoys centuries of tradition and repertoire to draw from, and in part because the 20th-century Modernists did their best to alienate their larger audience and filter it down to something ardent and small.
The broad audience has been slow to sign up again for new music, but something is afoot. Much of the newest new music that I have heard lately seems more eager to please and more interested in song, even while it continues to honor the challenge and the substance that we expect of any genre with the temerity to call itself “serious.”
The news in serious music tends to keep close company with the word “chamber.” And indie rock, of all things, is one of the forces driving the emerging popularity of new serious chamber composition. Brooklyn’s adventurous yMusic ensemble both opened for and accompanied the avant-garde rock group Dirty Projectors at their sold-out Carnegie Hall show last winter. Bryce Dessner, the Yale-trained guitarist for the glum indie-rock superstars the National, also of Brooklyn, is a champion and practitioner of serious Minimalism, working with the Kronos Quartet recently and his own hybrid chamber group Clogs.
Brooklyn doesn’t get all the brainy fun, though – just most of it. Locally, we enjoy the genre-flouting presence of Madera Vox, an excellent small ensemble whose latest release, Insomniac Moonlight, covers Fauré, Weill and Cobain. And then there is New Paltz’s venerable Poné Ensemble for New Music, the Hudson Valley’s only chamber music group dedicated to the performance of 20th- and 21st-century music.
The Poné Ensemble for New Music celebrates its 40th anniversary with a series of local concerts, beginning on Sunday, November 17 at the Methodist Church in New Paltz. The concerts will celebrate the Past, focusing on composers that helped to define “new music” in 20th-century chamber music; the Present, focusing on music of composers, women and men, who came to fame during this Ensemble’s 40 years; and Future, featuring music by current and next-generation composers age 50 and younger, including world premieres written for the Poné Ensemble for New Music in the Vox Novus “15 Minutes of Fame” national competition.
November 17’s concert fulfils the “Past” component, featuring works by Cage, Copeland, Poulenc, Varèse and Villa-Lobos, among others. The show begins at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $15 for general admission, $12 for seniors; students attend for free. The New Paltz United Methodist Church is located at 1 Grove Street in New Paltz. For more information, visit www.poneensemble.org.