Getting back to what it's about: Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, WI
24 Sep 2013
Living Music

Working closely together at Token Creek
It seems like an inherent contradiction to, first, deeply value an artistic experience because of its existence outside of any marketing bent, brand or play, and, then, to turn around and blog about it. But maybe I'll just call it: filling the sphere with a genuine enthusiasm, belief and commitment to the trans-formative power of art, no matter how many people come, whether it's reviewed or even noticed by many.

The greater irony here is that John and Rose Mary Harbison's "little" chamber music festival, Token Creek, has gained quite a reputation for its vitality, freshness and extraordinary integrity. As such, every year, they consciously try to move away from the hubbub, scale down the scope and keep it close to the principles on which they founded it: mature artists presenting their work directly, and honestly. No bullsh*t please. While every other festival is marketing for broader reach, diverse venues, for growth and flash and excitement, the Harbisons work to keep that all in check, in the service of artists (including themselves, their programs and performances) and the art they produce.

Andy (Waggoner) and I, along with Molly Morkoski (pianist in Open End Ensemble and dear friend) had the extraordinary privilege of being together with John and Rose Mary for a week at the end of August at Token Creek. We performed a concert of our own complete with a Waggoner commission "Floating Bridge" from the festival and dedicated to John and Rosemary Harbison, which we premiered together with local wonderfuls Jennifer Paulson and Laura Burns. Then as a trio, together with actress Allison Schaffer and soprano Mary Mackenzie, Andy and I improvised with some of the great scenes of Shakespeare's output, programmed alongside songs from the last four hundred years, using Shakespeare in three languages in a program entitled: The Bard in Songs and Scenes. Allison set the tone for our improvisations and we worked to time, pace and colour our commentary. It was an exhilarating challenge and one-of-a-kind collaboration where every element came together to create an experience not easily duplicated.

Perhaps the hardest thing when the pieces come together so beautifully and in balance with one another, is to let go and accept that it's over. Easy for me to say; John and Rosie, together with managing director Sarah Schaffer, spent countless hours finding songs, reading text, researching works- it was a year of work that was projected into the world on these two occasions and then... what? It began with a relatively unknown song of Haydn and became a meeting point for all of us in two evenings and performances, and then it was over.

"an exhilarating challenge and one-of-a-kind collaboration"
There are very few days that have gone by that I haven't thought of our time and work there, beginning with the sharing of meals, swimming in the pond, to the trust we put in one another, not to mention the mistakes we made (on go around number one, Rose Mary quite correctly told Andy and I that, though we sounded really wonderful, we were just far too interesting and the text was suffering and could we please be less interesting- and she was absolutely right), and together sharing the experience of committing to something whose overall artistic success was an unknown until we actually took the stage in front of an audience.

Wow, this stuff will keep you on your toes, and if the Harbisons are any example, the creative work will keep you ticking, curious and clear.

Our week at Token Creek was an enormous privilege in so many ways. The ritual of reaching for something you can't quite see, stretching and working to create something essentially impermanent (live performance) - the work, you, the audience - the "normal" reality is that all these are consistently overlooked for the shiny new, the brand, the spin. The greatest experience on any side of the performance equation is fulfilling a reach, with risk, with vulnerability, with or by artists who value that uncertainty but are strong enough to make the make the struggle exciting. I think when we experience that kind of art, we are changed, and we are hooked.

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Bloch: Suite for Cello solo no 3
Sessions: Pieces (6) for Cello solo
Harbison: Suite for Solo Cello
Lutoslawski: Grave
Stucky: Dialoghi
Waggoner: Le Nom (Upperline)
Weesner: Possible Stories
Boulanger: Pieces (3) for Cello and Piano
Carter: Figment

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