Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 11, 2023

Modern Peabody trio fails to capture entire audience

By NATALIE BERKMAN | April 2, 2008

It is always worth it to see a concert at Peabody. First of all, the building is incredible. I'm not sure how many concert halls they have, but each one seems a work of art. Leith Syminton Griswald Hall, which housed the "New Music - Organically Grown" concert last Saturday, was incredible. Carved paneling, a tapestry and a huge organ were just a few of the features of this hall, aside from its wonderful acoustics.

Secondly, when you see a concert at Peabody, you are seeing some of the future's greatest musicians. Peabody is a world-class conservatory and yet another feature that makes Hopkins so desirable. Sometimes, when seeing a performance such as this last one, you even have the opportunity to see some of today's great performers - the men and women who instruct the students at Peabody. That being said, I don't think there can ever be a bad concert at Peabody, but I still wasn't thrilled with "New Music - Organically Grown."

Maybe it's just because I'm not a fan of modern music, but this concert made no sense to me. The four songs didn't really sound like much of anything: Jay Clayton (voice) would sing short bursts of seemingly random notes as Eric Kennedy (drums) kept a steady beat in the background; Donald Sutherland pounded out chords on the organ while Gary Thomas (tenor saxophone/flute) played impressive, but seemingly improvised runs on either of his instruments. Their first piece was called "Fortune Cookie," and I swear that's not what I hear when I open a fortune cookie. At times, it sounded a little like jazz, but it was still weird, even then.

The orchestrations for this piece and the rest of the concert were strange - it's not often that you hear a tenor saxophone and drum set playing with an organ - but the musicians worked well together. At the end of "Fortune Cookie," the quartet moved quickly to another piece and the audience didn't even realize it. They didn't applaud until the end of the second piece when they were absolutely sure that the song was over.

The performers were wonderful, as a group and individually, and one day I hope to hear them play music that I can understand. Jay Clayton had a lovely voice when she wasn't making strange sounds. Because of her voice, she has performed at major world venues including Lincoln Center, Sweet Basil, Town Hall, the Kennedy Center, Jazz Alley, and the North Sea and Montmartre Festivals. I believe her voice is well suited for singing jazz, but it was hard to tell while she was singing this "new music."

Eric Kennedy was a fantastic drummer, which wasn't hard to tell, considering he just played rhythms. His name wasn't in the program, but he played a sort of cadenza that was incredible.

Donald Sutherland is a member of the Peabody faculty and a renowned organist, so I was shocked to hear him playing this piece.

I would think he is used to playing the music of Bach, Mozart or other composers who wrote actual melodies, but I guess it's good that even organists can branch out into modern music.

Gary Thomas was very impressive with both of his instruments. According to the program, he is a Baltimore native who is leaving "prominent marks on contemporary jazz."

Also, one of the pieces they performed, "The Blue of the End," was composed by a Peabody student, Ying-Chen Kao, who is currently pursuing a DMA in composition.I didn't understand her piece at all, but I didn't understand any of the pieces they played.

As a group, the performers were very attentive and were constantly looking and playing off of each other.

I usually prefer music that makes sense to me: pieces with melodies, refrains, real chords etc.

If I had wanted to attempt to enjoy this concert, I would have had to study this music diligently, and as a Hopkins student, who has time for that?

Even after studying it, I doubt I would have understood it. Someone would have had to explain it to me.

I don't see much fun in that. I'd rather go to a Peabody concert where the focus is on a famous old composer whose music is still around today and has survived the test of time.

I doubt this style of modern music will be around a hundred years from now, but Mozart will still grace every concert hall.

In a hundred years, there will be a new type of music but maybe it won't be "organically grown."

Overall it was an interesting concert, but it didn't appeal to me. The audience seemed to respond well to the pieces, however.

I suppose, at a concert such as this, the majority of the people are there because they like the style.

Leah Heyn, a piano teacher who takes classes at Peabody, was enthralled by the music and the performers.

"The main body [of "Lines and Spaces: A Dream Suite" by Jay Clayton] was an actual reading of most of Langston Hughes's poem 'Dreams,'" she told me. "[Clayton's] rendition of it was wonderful."

I still believe that you can't see a bad concert at Peabody, but you can certainly see some pretty strange ones.

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