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Music Review: Red Hooker The Future According To Yesterday

When I hear the phrase Classical Music it conjures up images of composers with severe looking faces wearing powdered wigs. Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Mozart, Straus, and Mahler in their long frock coats slaving over reams of score paper, picking notes out on a piano, while all around them heavenly hosts rejoice. Or something like that anyway. The idea that somebody from post 1900 would be considered Classical is not something that I can easily get my head around.

Certainly they might compose works that make use of similar instruments and for the same deployment of musicians: quartets, trios, chamber ensembles, and full orchestras, but how can they be called Classical when they live(d) in modern times? I'm probably sounding pedantic, but in every other art form when something is referred to as Classical it is in reference to the style that is being practiced not the means that are used to produce the art.

Would you group Andy Warhol with Van Gogh stylistically? No of course you wouldn't, so why would Beethoven and contemporary composers be classified in that manner? One only has to listen to Aaron Copeland's Fanfare For The Common Man once to realize that it is from a completely different school of thought than the Ode To Joy. When you start to factor in instruments not even dreamt of by Brahms and Bach; electric guitars, synthesisers, percussion instruments from around the world, and the electronics at the disposal of today's composers the differences are only compounded.

In calling what the men and women who compose today do Classical; it does them a great disservice. An audience will be expecting to hear what they would hear from a Brahms concerto or a Strauss Waltz because of preconceived notions of what Classical music is. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, and a prime example is the work being done by the ensemble Red Hooker from Brooklyn New York.

The quartet of Maxim Moston violin, Peter Hess Clarient, Rob Collins Rhodes keyboard, and Stephen Griesgraber composer, guitar, and electronics are an example of the direction composition for multiple instruments has taken today. Their initial release The Future According To Yesterday is a four part, twenty-four minute composition where the electronic compliments the acoustic to create atmospheres that are redolent of sadness and tranquility simultaneously.

"Sometimes She Speaks Gently" is the opening movement. The clarinet and the violin exchange solos that are soothing to the ear without being merely trance inducing. Each one of them takes a turn in the foreground, establishing their roles in the composition. Underneath their precise statements, the Rhodes keyboard creates a swirling atmosphere that evokes mists and fogs.

The clarinet and the violin are occasional voices that one might hear coming out of a crowd, a momentary piece of clarity in an otherwise nondescript and confusing world. The second movement, "Animus", introduces the guitar into the mix, and stronger emotions as well. While a clarinet and violin can each blend into an atmosphere of billowing sound, the guitar is far more insistent and demands we pay attention to it much like a strong emotion would put us on notice that it can't be ignored.

Each movement continues the pattern of the Rhodes keyboard washing a background of sound much like a watercolour painter will wash his canvas before applying the foreground. With each instrument that Griesgraber adds onto his canvas he adds depth of feeling and intensity to the composition. When in "Twelve Times Goodbye" the electronic software instrument is added it generates another layer of atmosphere on top of what the Rhodes is creating.

The slight increase in discordance thus created only adds to the depth of emotion that is being generated by the ensemble. What does it mean? Well how does it make you feel? What images are created in your mind's eye when you listen to the piece, or do you see more then one image and have more than one impression created? This isn't like listening to the Ode To Joy where Beethoven demands that you believe in the glory of God and manipulates your emotions.

Good modern compositions, like The Future According To Yesterday exert far subtler influences on the listener. Each will take away something slightly different, dependant on his or her personal experiences. Like the fog created by the Rhodes keyboard, the music insinuates itself into your awareness slowly and surely and stimulates your reactions and at the least leaves you feeling something different then what you felt prior to listening.

Steve Griesgraber's compositions are not what anybody would call Classical, but they aren't Jazz, Blues, Pop, or electronic either. So what does that leave us with except to call them music that's thought provoking, emotionally evocative, and exceptionally well performed. I don't think you could ask for than that, do you?

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