If the phrase “chamber music” makes you want to turn the page, imagining something dusty, dry and stuffy, you really need to think again – especially in terms of this weekend’s offering in the 47-year-old Ulster Chamber Music Series, to be held at the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kingston. We’re not talking string quartets here; we’re talking world music and Minimalism from NEXUS, eerie overtone throat singing from Prana and an enormous contraption of metal tubes and rods called the Vistaphone: a percussion instrument created specifically for one of the compositions featured in Sunday’s show. We are also talking a legendary guest performer: seven-time Grammy-winning soprano saxophonist Paul Winter, renowned worldwide for his settings of jazz fusion juxtaposed with the songs of wolves, eagles and humpback whales.
If you have ever attended one of his spectacular Solstice concerts that have been going on for decades now at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, you will know that the genre-bending, almost-ritualistic kind of music associated with Winter is admirably suited for soaring ecclesiastical spaces with heavenly acoustics. Some fans would argue that outdoors under a Full Moon is the primo venue for audiences to howl along with a performance of “Wolf Eyes,” but a nice cavernous church will do for most Paul Winter numbers.
For this event, organizer Garry Kvistad – member of the world percussion ensemble NEXUS and the founder of Woodstock Percussion – wanted to scout out a larger venue than the chamber music series’ usual home at the Holy Cross Church on Broadway. After considerable field-testing, he and Prana’s harmonic choirmaster Baird Hersey chose the 1874 Trinity Lutheran Church, located at 72 Spring Street in the Rondout District, partly because it will hold the sizable crowd that the Winter name is sure to draw and partly, as Kvistad put it, “in order to maximize the acoustical compatibility with this instrument.”
The instrument in question is the Vistaphone, his own invention, which looks like a cross between the uneven parallel bars from your high school gym and the mythical scrapyard where old Woodstock Chimes go to die. Tuned to the “natural harmonic series” to complement the ancient microtonal vocal scales explored so exquisitely by Prana, the metal tubes and rods in the 32-piece resonating array range from seven inches to nine feet in length. The Vistaphone makes its debut in the premiere of Chiaroscuro, composed by Hersey for this occasion.
Also new on Sunday’s program is an arrangement of the NEXUS percussion piece Sky Ghost, rejiggered to incorporate parts for soprano sax and vocal ensemble. The rest of the scheduled offerings look to be one rare treat after another as well, from a Ugandan song for amadinda to a ragtime xylophone number by George Hamilton Green to a suite of proto-Minimalist compositions by the blind street musician Louis Hardin, better-known as Moondog.
NEXUS consists of Bob Becker, Bill Cahn, Russell Hartenberger and Kvistad. Prana’s members are Amy Fradon, Kristi Gholson, Tim Hill, Bruce Milner, Leslie Ritter, Bill Ylitalo and Hersey. Kvistad has dubbed this weekend’s otherworldly pickup band the Harmonic Orchestra, and for all we know, the ad hoc collaboration could be the start of a new phase for all three musical entities. In any case, the event sounds like it’s something not to be missed if you’re at all interested in the outer limits of the sonic arts (and science and math, as Hersey would probably insist).
The show begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 19. Advance tickets for “The Harmonic Orchestra: NEXUS, Prana and Paul Winter” cost $30 general admission, $25 for seniors, $5 for youth aged 18 and under, and may be ordered online at www.ulsterchambermusicseries.org (PayPal is accepted). If the event is not already sold out, tickets will also be available at the door for $35, $30 and $5. For more information, call (845) 340-9434.
Ulster Chamber Music Series presents “The Harmonic Orchestra: Paul Winter, NEXUS & Prana,” Sunday, April 19, 3 p.m., $35/$30$25/$5, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 72 Spring Street, Kingston; (845) 340-9434, www.ulsterchambermusicseries.org.