The answer is bowing in the wind
CC ensemble produces unique sounds
Who: The Bowed Piano Ensemble, director and composer Stephen Scott, soprano Victoria Hansen
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7
Where: Packard Hall on the Colorado College campus, 5 W. Cache La Poudre St.
Admission: Free; 389-6000; http://www.coloradocollege.edu/academics/dept/music/ensembles/bpe.dot
Something Else: Search "bowed piano ensemble" at youtube to hear and see how these 10 musicians light up the insides of a grand piano
Down in the basement of Packard Hall, in a room marked “Pearson Experimental Music Studio,” nine students and one older man crowd around a grand piano that has been without its lid for over a decade. In a concerted action that could be called choreography (in an aesthetic interpretation) or surgery (from a simple physical observation), they pick, prod, rub, bow and play this once glorious instrument into submisssion.
They are the Colorado College Bowed Piano Ensemble, the only ongoing group of its kind in the world.
“I first heard a nylon fish-line bow playing the strings of a piano in the mid-’70s,” explains 68-year-old Stephen Scott, a CC professor of music who started the ensemble in 1977. “I thought ‘that’s an amazing sound and I’d like to look in to that more.’ I decided I wanted to hear a whole bunch of those drones in choral structures.”
To date, more than 100 Colorado College students have been under the direction of Scott and performed the almost 20 compositions he has written. The sounds they produce have little relation to the instrument they play.
“There’s a dance company in Taiwan that’s used one of my mid-career pieces,” Scott says. “They did four shows in London and were advertising my music as electronic. I had to write to them and say, ‘Excuse me. This is a piano, an acoustic piano. There are no electronics. Please do not advertise me as an electronic composer.’”
The current incarnation of the ensemble is about to embark on a European tour.
“The concert we’re giving on Thursday is a preview of what we’ll be doing when we go on the tour,” he says.
When they return home, they will go back into Packard’s concert hall and record a new album. “None of the works on this program have been professionally recorded.”
Included in the concert is the first performance of “Afternoon of a Fire: 6.23.12, Waldo Canyon, Colorado.”
“This is my effort to commemorate the tragic event and the heroic work of at least 8,000 fire fighters from several states, as well as the local volunteers who served the needs of our community,” Scott says. “I also felt it would also be important culturally and historically to evoke the memory of the Ute Indians, who were indigenous to the Ute Pass and Manitou Springs. So I created a structure to include improvised solos played on three different Native American flutes by ensemble member Saraiya Ruano.”
Scott is the middle of three-year phased retirement program at the college. This means he’ll be finished at CC in spring, 2014. This calls into question whether the Bowed Piano Ensemble will continue.
“There will be no budget,” he says. “I don’t know what will happen. But at this time, no one has expressed an interest in picking it up. But I’m not going to stop composing.
He’s working on an opera with his wife Victoria Hansen, who is the soprano soloist in may of his compositions, and Steve Hayward, a writer in the college’s English department.
“He has written the libretto for us. We’re working on how we are going to get a premiere up and running. The bowed piano will be in the middle of the pit orchestra.”
If the ensemble does indeed live on, don’t expect Scott to pass the baton to another composer.
“That’s my voice and I like being the one who does it — the one who gets the gigs and makes the recordings.”