Sounds Modern aims to put a twist on classical music

Sounds Modern aims to put a twist on classical music

Sounds Modern aims to put a twist on classical music
February 18
00:34 2019

In 2018, the music website Sounds Modern made Theatre Jones, a Dallas art websites’ “favorite moments from 2018” list.

UNT College of Music professors Elizabeth McNutt and Andrew May created the Sounds Modern series more than 10 years ago. Dedicated to approaching music in a different way, the website has two concerts every year. In 2018, they uploaded an additional performance to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. Players from the Dallas-Fort Worth area perform for Sounds Modern at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in collaboration with special exhibits. Performers include UNT faculty, local musicians and UNT students.

“The better my students get, which they have every year, I’ve had some wonderful ones and a lot of them end up eventually playing in the series,” McNutt said.

McNutt and May’s decade-old project focuses on modernity, and they take pride in offering audiences newer music.

“I don’t say, ‘That piece is too old to get in this concert,’ but I was really happy with the [Laurie Simmons concert] we did last month,” McNutt said. “[I’m proud] that the oldest piece was from 2006. All the pieces were post-2000s.”

Éva Polgár, an adjunct professor for the College of Music, started performing with Sounds Modern three years ago and continues playing piano for the project. Polgár said their recent performance strived to approach music in an unorthodox way.

“[During] the last concert, which was the weirdest I’ve ever done, [we used] vibrators in a non-sexual way to improvise with inside the piano,” Polgár said. “I turned them on and they started resonating. As you put them inside the piano, the piano strings take the resonance from these objects. That creates beautiful overtones.”

The Laurie Simmons art exhibit included photographs of models with closed, painted eyelids and other pictures with purposely placed flaws in them.

“Everything [is], in some way or other, [in] seemingly familiar spaces or situations where something’s wrong with them,” May said. “They [are] very moving, often in a very shocking way for me.”

May said the idea for the exhibit came from the psychology of women alone, using female composers to bridge that connection with the art.

“There was a notion that the artwork was in different ways about the thoughts of women who are alone in rooms,” May said. “We were thinking about not exclusively women composers though, [there were] just composers whose pieces sort of matched that idea.”

Sounds Modern tries to include different art forms whenever it can. For example, the Laurie Simmons exhibit included a new spoken word organization that made its start in England.

“It was the group improvisation that was so electrifying,” Polgár said. “It created something new on stage. We were able to respond spontaneously. That spontaneous element I used to be afraid of all of a sudden turned into a very comfortable environment.”

University of North Texas music flute professor Elizabeth McNutt in her office at UNT on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. Image by: Emily Olkkola. 

Sounds Modern has exhibited various genres over the years. Introduced in 2013, “Neighbor Notes” is a concert exclusively featuring composers from Mexico.

“[Finding composers] ended up being a kind of detective work I got so much out of,” McNutt said. “I knew one composer. He’s maybe the most famous living composer of Mexico. Eventually, I discover three composers from Mexico I have never known before.”

Although Sounds Modern performances usually take place in Fort Worth, shows have also been recorded in other cities, such as Marfa, Texas.

“My kind of music is not tourist music,” McNutt said. “[Marfa’s residents] wanted entertainment music. Only there, because it’s sort of this magical modern art haven.”

Sounds Modern’s goal to combine art and music hopes to expose new audiences to music they might not find any other way.

“I’m really hoping to persuade art lovers that our music is interesting, instead of viewing classical music as being [only] for people who love classical music,” McNutt said.

Although it has been over a decade in the making, McNutt said she still remembers visiting the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth for the first time.

“I fell in love with the building and was really excited about the collection,” McNutt said. “Immediately, [I] was like, ‘Wow, it’d be great to do something here.’ I kept that in my head. [During another visit], they had an artist there and I thought, ‘Oh, that would be a good pairing with this composer.’ I reached out to the artist at that point. That’s sort of how it happened.”

Featured Image: University of North Texas music flute professor Elizabeth McNutt plays a flute in her office at UNT on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. Image by: Emily Olkkola. 

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Raquel Villatoro

Raquel Villatoro

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