Sleepy? This mu­sic is for you

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Gra­ham Am­brose

It doesn’t bother pi­anist R. An­drew Lee when you fall asleep at his per­for­mances.

They can last awhile longer than most clas­si­cal mu­sic con­certs — some­times up to five hours. He’ll of­ten tell the au­di­ence be­fore­hand: You don’t have to stay the whole time.

Many take him up on the of­fer and leave early. But that doesn’t faze the 35-year-old, who teaches mu­sic and serves as the as­so­ciate uni­ver­sity min­is­ter for litur­gi­cal and sa­cred mu­sic at Regis Uni­ver­sity.

“I think you re­ally have to en­ter into this kind of mu­sic,” he said. “And if you’re en­ter­ing into the piece to the ex­tent that you’re so re­laxed that you’re able to fall asleep, I think some­thing right has hap­pened.”

Lee, who lives in Denver, is a rec­og­nized leader of min­i­mal mu­sic, a re­duc­tive genre of con­tem­po­rary clas­si­cal that uses sparse chords, sim­ple melodies and ex­tended rep­e­ti­tion to strip down sound to its most ba­sic el­e­ments.

He didn’t ex­pect to stum­ble upon the aus­tere school of sound. Lee grew up lis­ten­ing to Beethoven and Rach­mani­noff out­side Kansas City, far from the neigh­bor­hood in south Man­hat­tan where min­i­mal mu­sic was first de­vel­oped in the 1960s.

The na­tive Mis­sourian fol­lowed a largely tra­di­tional path in clas­si­cal train­ing: a bach­e­lor of mu­sic in pi­ano per­for­mance at Tru­man State Uni­ver­sity, fol­lowed by a mas­ter’s in mu­sic in 2006 and a doc­tor­ate in 2010 from the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri-Kansas City.

At UMKC, a men­tor in­tro­duced him to “The Time Curve Pre­ludes,” a wa­ter­shed post-min­i­mal com­po­si­tion penned in 1978 by the Amer­i­can com­poser Wil­liam Duck­worth. The dis­cov­ery changed Lee’s life, steer­ing him away from canon­i­cal clas­si­cal­ists to­ward con­tem­po­raries.

“He re­al­ized then that he wanted to work with com­posers still alive,” said An­drew Granade, a pro­fes­sor of mu­si­col­ogy at UMKC who ad­vised Lee’s

dis­ser­ta­tion. “Andy’s very hu­man­is­tic in the way he lives his life. He cares deeply about peo­ple. It was a rev­e­la­tion to him when he re­al­ized that in­stead of won­der­ing what a com­poser would have wanted, he could just ask them him­self.”

He’s col­lab­o­rated with com­posers across the globe, help­ing to chart the course of the liv­ing genre as an ac­claimed per­former, as a teacher and con­duc­tor at Regis, where he’s worked for seven years, and even as a record ex­ec­u­tive.

In 2010, he and David McIn­tire, a friend from grad school and cur­rent as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of mu­sic tech­nol­ogy at Mis­souri Western State Uni­ver­sity, co-founded Ir­ri­ta­ble Hedge­hog Mu­sic, which has pro­duced all 10 of Lee’s al­bums. (In 2011, he recorded his own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of “The Time Curve Pre­ludes,” a 2012 Critic’s Choice by Gramo­phone Mag­a­zine.) The fledg­ling la­bel has de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as an out­let for min­i­mal and elec­tro-acous­tic mu­sic.

“To us, this mu­sic isn’t re­ally ‘ex­per­i­men­tal’ or avant-garde,” McIn­tire said. “We are en­gaged with it be­cause we take real plea­sure from it; it stim­u­lates and nour­ishes us as much as any other sort of mu­sic. Not ev­ery­one ap­pre­ci­ates it that way, and we are well aware that this is not a mass-ap­peal genre. The flip side is that we en­gage with a re­ally en­thu­si­as­tic and loyal group of lis­ten­ers, and we have made some record­ings which are re­garded as bench­mark per­for­mances of the work in ques­tion.”

On stage, his sonic ex­per­i­ments come to life with glacial pa­tience. In March 2013, he played a solo pi­ano com­po­si­tion over two nights at a café in Lon­don. Dur­ing the first set, Lee per­formed a piece by Jürg Frey that in­volved re­peat­ing the same per­fect fourth 468 times in a row. He re­turned the fol­low­ing evening to per­form the en­tirety of Den­nis John- son’s 1959 five-hour min­i­mal­ist epic, “Novem­ber.” Time­Out New York called Lee’s record­ing of the marathonic melody “su­per­hu­man,” and an­nointed “Den­nis John­son: Novem­ber” as best clas­si­cal al­bum of 2013.

“Lis­ten­ing to this mu­sic is like look­ing at a statue,” the pi­anist said. “You can get close, you can back off, you can move around. The lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is one that you en­ter into, as the mu­sic tends to dwell on ideas and doesn’t rush for­ward or have a sense of busy­ness to it. That opens up a lot of sonic pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

Clas­si­cal mu­sic isn’t known for in­no­va­tion. Its very name rel­e­gates the genre to a pre-mod­ern, by­gone era long-ar­gued dead. But Lee, a mil­len­nial min­i­mal­ist, has brought new life to the os­ten­si­bly mori­bund style through so­cial me­dia.

Though he still tours the tra­di­tional cir­cuit — sym­phony cen­ters, art gal­leries, mu­sic halls — Lee has taken con­certs to the cloud. Free hour-long shows on Face­book Live broad­cast his mu­sic to a younger co­hort who might not fre­quent the con­cert hall. Twit­ter al­lows him to en­gage with com­posers and con­nois­seurs across the world.

“It’s like whistling in a dig­i­tal hurricane,” he said. “It’s a great thing, and it’s also a strug­gle. I can reach any­one with an in­ter­net con­nec­tion any­where in the world. At the same time, ev­ery­one has the same tools at their dis­posal. So try­ing to stand out can be dif­fi­cult.”

Min­i­mal mu­sic has ana­logues in var­i­ous other me­dia, in­clud­ing paint­ing, sculp­ture, po­etry, lit­er­a­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture. Lee has dab­bled in mu­sic writ­ing of his own, but only fleet­ingly.

In­stead, he en­vi­sions his role as that of an alarm clock, wak­ing up the world to dor­mant mu­sic yet un­ap­pre­ci­ated.

“Ev­ery now and then I’ve had cool ideas, but I’m more than con­tent with ex­plor­ing what’s al­ready been writ­ten,” he said. “There’s more than enough work that needs ad­vo­cacy, more than enough to keep me in­ter­ested and cu­ri­ous.”

Pro­vided by BRS Pho­tog­ra­phy

R. An­drew Lee, 35, is a leader of min­i­mal mu­sic, a re­duc­tive genre of con­tem­po­rary clas­si­cal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.