ArtsATL > Music > Preview: ASO contrabassist Michael Kurth debuts two pieces from his side job as composer

Preview: ASO contrabassist Michael Kurth debuts two pieces from his side job as composer

Michael Kurth in the Krog Street tunnel.
Michael Kurth in the Krog Street tunnel.
Composer/musician Michael Kurth in the Krog Street tunnel. (Courtesy John Fulton Photography)

Michael Kurth has been on the road again. This week, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra contrabassist and composer has been playing as a substitute with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., staying at the home of an old college friend who is a member of that orchestra. The final concert in Washington is Saturday night, after which Kurth hopes to get some sleep, then make the 10-hour drive back to Atlanta in time for the premiere of his new sextet, “Neologisticism,” by the Riverside Chamber Players. That concert begins at 3 p.m. Sunday in Roswell, so Kurth will have to drive straight through from the capital to be there.

“This is the first time Riverside will have premiered a work of mine that I haven’t been involved in the preparation of,” says Kurth in a phone interview. “I’m fortunate that I have a group of colleagues and friends that I trust, and they know my music really well. They know my style, the grooves and the expectations, the potential pitfalls. I got an e-mail from [violist] Jessica Oudin, and she said every time she practices this upcoming piece all she can think of is ‘it sounds Kurthy.’ So I guess I’m an adjective now.” He likes the term. “It’s got some simplicity which I think is one of the features of my music. There’s always a simplicity there.”

Playing with the National Symphony, and traveling on a budget to do so, was one of the pragmatic consequences of the ongoing Atlanta Symphony Orchestra lockout that began September 7. The musicians of the orchestra found temporary gigs with other major orchestras or wherever else they could obtain them. 

Last week, Kurth was subbing with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. As with Washington, he drove there. “I intentionally didn’t stay with friends there,” says Kurth. “I hope I wasn’t rude, but I got a very nice, quiet hotel room in Kentucky and spent hours every day composing in between [rehearsals and performances] because I hadn’t written anything since the lockout started.”

Nevertheless, he has other performances of his music on the table. On Tuesday, November 11,  just two days after the Riverside premiere, Kurth has another premiere, this time with the DeKalb Symphony Orchestra (DSO) at Georgia Perimeter College in Clarkston. Titled “Inquisitivity,” it was commissioned by the DSO for its 50th anniversary season. Unlike the Riverside players, the DSO is a group that has never played Kurth’s music before, although he has worked as a composer with its music director, Fyodor Cherniavsky, in a studio recording project.

Kurth finished both “Inquisitivity” and “Neologisticism” last spring. “All of my big [composing] obligations were done before this lockout began.,” he says. But he admits that he has little time to compose in the midst of it, not only because of traveling for temporary out-of-town work, but because so much of his remaining energies have been, as chair of the ATL Symphony Musicians’ concert committee, geared toward organizing local performances by locked-out musicians.

“I feel that I’m a lot busier now that I’m not working,” he says ironically, “because I’ve been so busy running around scheduling, programming, staffing concerts, working on logistics and recruiting people. I love doing the concert planning work [but] it’s wearing me out. I’m looking forward to when I’m back at work, and [can] just focus on playing the bass and writing music.”

If the ASO lockout is resolved in time — and a resolution now appears in sight — audiences will have two more opportunities to hear Kurth’s music: first, in the “Christmas with the ASO” concert, where an unaccompanied “Alleluia” will be sung by the ASO Chorus. An orchestral piece entitled “Variations on an Old French Carol” that was premiered last year by the Florida Orchestra is scheduled for the “Very Merry Holiday Pops” concert conducted by Michael Krajewski later in December. The Houston Symphony has also scheduled that piece for a holiday concert next month.

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