On Wednesday, October 16, Atlanta-based new-edge music group Bent Frequency and PUSH Physical Theatre of Rochester, New York, will come together, along with a handful of guest musicians, to perform “Comala,” a “scenic cantata” by Mexican-born composer Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, at the Rialto Center for the Arts. The concert is free and open to the public.
The Rialto performance will come just days before Bent Frequency performs “Comala” at two significant festivals in central Mexico: on October 19 at the Fiestas Octobre in Guadalajara and October 21 at the Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuato.
Based on the novel Pedro Páram by esteemed Mexican author Juan Rulfo, the 2001 cantata’s story is about Juan Preciado, a man who visits the hometown of his recently deceased mother in search of his father, only to find that it’s a ghost town — in the literal sense, inhabited by specters.
Last year, Zohn-Muldoon was contacted by the Cervantino Festival to do a project. He suggested “Comala” and thought Bent Frequency would be the ensemble to perform it. Although it was conceived by the composer as a “scenic cantata,” because the two singers don’t move about the stage, the festival wanted something with more visual, theatrical elements. So Zohn-Muldoon engaged PUSH Physical Theatre to develop staged movement for the production.
“The Cervantino Festival is a big deal,” says Stuart Gerber, percussionist and co-artistic director of Bent Frequency, who performed there in 2002 with pianist Michael Fowler as Ensemble Sirius. “It’s a three-week interdisciplinary festival, like Mexico’s version of the Edinburgh Festival. We decided to convene in Atlanta to rehearse and do a performance here in preparation for that. In the meantime, we were also able to secure a performance at Fiestas Octobre in Guadalajara. It all worked out quite nicely.”
The two-stop Mexican tour is indicative of a shift in focus for the 10-year-old Bent Frequency. “We’re trying to do more of these kinds of things,” Gerber says. “It’s great to do things in Atlanta; we’re based here. But we want to do regional, national and international things.”
One of those things is what is called the Bent Frequency Duo Project, which Gerber and saxophonist and co-Artistic Director Jan Berry Baker will take on the road and for which they commissioned nine composers to write new pieces for saxophone and percussion. “We have two tours in February and March, about a half-dozen shows each, so we’re getting a lot of new repertoire that we’re going to play a lot of times,” Gerber says.
The duo project, representing Bent Frequency, will also be the ensemble-in-residence at the Tage aktueller Musik (“New Music Days”) in Nuremberg, Germany, one of Atlanta’s official sister cities. “It’s easier and cheaper [for] two people to tour — much more nimble,” says Gerber. “In the case of ‘Comala,’ it’s 18 people.”
Given the large number of people involved, Baker notes that while individual members of the group have extensive foreign experience, taking “Comala” to Mexico is “the first really big engagement that Bent Frequency has had outside of the greater Atlanta area. This is really big as far as how much they’re investing in us. It means a lot to us to have somebody recognize us on this scale. We’re going to build on that.”
But they also are determined not to allow their level of activity in Atlanta to diminish. “There’s a lot going on in the city now — artistically, musically — especially in terms of new music,” notes Gerber. “We’re glad to be a part of that. At the same time, we feel it’s important to try to represent Atlanta and its cultural scene in other places — in the Southeast, nationwide and abroad. That’s a different focus [for us] in the last year or so.”
Baker says Atlanta is becoming a center for new music. “We do three or four big projects a year,” she says. “Those have already brought to Atlanta composers and performers who have never been here before. They’re always surprised by how many people [will attend] a new-music concert and all the incredible performers that are here. It’s opening people’s eyes to the vibrant scene that is here.”