Avant-garde and opera are two terms that, on the surface, appear more as oxymorons than synonyms. That is, unless you consider the new concert series through IUPUI's Music and Arts Technology department. It aims to change that notion, at least for a few nights this year.
This coming Tuesday (Feb. 3) at 7:30 p.m., the Basile Opera Center, new home of Indianapolis Opera, will host a concert by bass clarinetist Michael Lowenstern. It will be the second in a series of performances by contemporary musicians who employ technology in their acts.
- Courtesy of IUPUI
Renowned instrumentalist Michael Lowenstern combines his mastery of the funky-looking bass clarinet with technology to deliver a uniquely entertaining sound.
"It's very hard to keep current simply by having students look in textbooks, which inevitably will be one step behind in a part of the world that moves so fast technologically," says IUPUI Music and Arts Technology instructor Robin Cox. "So bringing active practitioners in that have a national and international reputation is a way you can truly demonstrate things that are relevant to today."
Cox says IUPUI lacks a sizable performance space on caliber with the professional musicians his department hopes to attract. But the university's shortcoming appears to be Indianapolis Opera's gain. The opera has struggled to sustain itself since taking over the former Greek Orthodox church at 41st and Pennsylvania, and so now it has opened its doors to alternative programming as well.
"They have a wonderful facility ... the Basile Opera Center," Cox says. "The back of that building [the Greek Orthodox church] is a very large, rectangular space of 5,200 square feet. It's very contemporary looking ... not already pre-configured. In a way it's sort of a blank slate, but it also physically sounds very nice."
These IUPUI concerts performed there are free and open to all ages. The first in the series featured a performance by Pamela Z and attracted a near-capacity crowd. Lowenstern is the lone instrumentalist in the lineup, which ends in March with a performance by San Francisco soprano Amy X Neuberg. For now Cox is excited about the level of talent that Lowenstern brings to the table.
"He's maybe one of the finest musical talents I've ever met," Cox says. "He's very adept at employing technology as a solo artist on stage and does a number of things that are unique solutions. He plays the oddball instrument of a bass clarinet, but he gets you to forget how unusual that instrument is pretty quickly just through his sheer level of capability."
Prior to his performance, Lowenstern will host on-campus lectures and interactive sessions for students and members of Girls Rock Indianapolis. At the moment, IUPUI is funding the concert series. Cox says the university will assess the success of the series over the summer. He was encouraged by the turnout at the first show, and he's hopeful it will continue.
"This is, in a sense, the inaugural year of this series," he says. "Community involvement was more important to us than assessing a ticket fee for the shows. Beyond that, there's no one really bringing artists of this nature into Indianapolis right now. So, it is giving Indianapolis something unique in that respect."