It’s no secret that it’s a troubling time for classical music in Detroit. The nearly six-month old Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians’ strike continues, leaving the Max M. Fisher Music Center largely silent. But as the avant-garde composer and philosopher John Cage spent much of his life and career insisting, there’s no such thing as silence, and Detroit has the opportunity this weekend to hear vital and extraordinary sounds, some brand-new to our ears.
New Music Detroit (NMD), the intrepid ensemble that’s been performing what its members call “strange, beautiful music” in Detroit since 2007, will play on Friday night in the DIA’s Rivera Court as part of the museum’s ongoing Friday Night Live series. They’ll be joined by Vicki Chow, the pianist from the influential New York ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars. I talked with Ian Ding, a DSO percussionist and a founding member of NMD, about the concert and the crisis that’s gripped the DSO.
Matthew Piper: Can you talk a bit about Vicky Chow from Bang on a Can All-Stars? How did NMD get involved with her?
Ian Ding: She’s an incredible pianist and we’re thrilled to have her with us. I first met Vicky last year in NYC. From the outset we hit it off and pretty soon started to talk about bringing her to Detroit for a show and a possible collaboration. It just so happened that she was also finishing up her first solo album at the time (the piano music of Ryan Francis), and so was looking to set up dates around the country to help promote the material. The timing of it worked out perfectly. The album will be coming out in a few weeks and in the meantime we couldn’t be more excited about performing with her. This will be her first-ever appearance in Detroit.
MP: What can we expect to hear on Friday? What are you looking especially forward to performing?
ID: The program we have for April 8 will be a hodgepodge of composers and styles that we love…everything from some early John Cage and Workers Union by Louis Andriessen — real new music “standards” — to pieces by some of our favorite composer-friends: Merc Mellits, Nico Muhly, and Virgil Moorefield. I’m especially proud of the number of premieres on this concert: Ryan Francis’s solo piano music will be heard locally for the first time, as well as Nico Muhly’s Pillaging Music. The Mark Mellits saxophone piece is a world premiere, and the concert’s closer, Virgil Moorefield’s No Business as Usual, is an NMD commission from last year. We’re really proud to have helped bring it to life. It’s a fun and wild piece that we really enjoy playing. [Click here for the full performance schedule.]
MP: Can you talk a bit about what the DSO strike has meant for NMD? I read that the whole percussion section is leaving. Do you, personally, anticipate maintaining a presence in Detroit after that happens? If not, what does that mean for the future of the ensemble?
ID: What the strike has meant for us is that those of us who make a living making music in Detroit have had to find work in other cities, plain and simple. It’s been well-documented by now that the whole percussion section is leaving and will be gone by summertime. I’ll be moving to the Twin Cities in June, where my fiancee lives. It’s an incredibly sad situation for everyone involved, and there has to be a better way. How all this will ultimately affect NMD remains to be seen, but we absolutely love our audience and we’re definitely committed to keeping the group up and running and hope to continue to play shows whenever we can. I don’t have the answers – I wish I did – but I still feel that the arts and culture are Detroit’s best hope for the future.
Addendum: As of Monday, April 4, the DSO is back!
New Music Detroit will perform on Friday, April 8 at 7:00 and 9:00 pm at the DIA, 5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit; (313) 833-7900; dia.org. The performance is free with museum admission.