The Zero Milepost, the stone marker for what was once the Southeastern terminus of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, is located just south of what is now Five Points. When it was first surveyed in 1837, then moved 1,200 feet to its final location in 1842, the area around the end of the rail line was known simply as Terminus. Then it became Marthasville for a few years. Finally, in 1847, it became the exact center of the newly incorporated Atlanta, the point from which the original city limits were measured.
Not quite a half mile north of that landmark, the Terminus Ensemble of Contemporary Music will make its debut Sunday, March 4, at the downtown Atlanta-Fulton Central Library. The free concert will begin in the library’s ground-level auditorium at 3 p.m..
It’s appropriate that the group is making its debut downtown, not far from where the future hub of the American Southeast was established 175 years ago.
“We have discussed the idea of presenting future concert programs multiple times at perhaps three locations: intown, Decatur and Alpharetta,” says composer Adam Scott Neal, who, along with composers Sarah Hersh and Brent Milam, founded the Terminus Ensemble and constitute its artistic and administrative board. The three will curate the programs, with input from the players, but Neal is very clear about one thing: “We want to keep local music at the forefront of our mission. Other new-music ensembles in Atlanta do play local composers, but it is not their primary focus.”
Veteran Atlanta composer Nickitas Demos, whose music will be part of the debut program, finds the formation of the ensemble significant. “It was formed almost exclusively by composers, something not seen in Atlanta since before I moved back to the city in the early 1990s,” says Demos.
In classical Roman mythology, the god Terminus was in charge of protecting boundaries. But in terms of growing the city’s new-music community, Neal wants to open the boundaries and involve more people producing and performing concerts of work by local composers.
“Terminus can only play a part in coalescing the composing community,” Neal says. “My hope is that it can inspire others to start their own groups or present concerts — that’s what I’ve always hoped when I’ve put on independent/non-academic concerts. I do it partially to show that it can be done. That’s why I’m also really excited about Chamber Cartel. Caleb Herron has a similar drive to get out into the community and play contemporary or alt-classical music.”
Neal says the configuration of Terminus is more or less a “Pierrot” ensemble, referring to the musicians required to perform Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” which is not uncommon among classical new-music ensembles. Thamyris, an Atlanta ensemble formed in 1987 and now defunct, was such a group, but it was decidedly performer-driven rather than composer-driven.
“Although we have three composers leading the group, our players are interested, involved and excited to be part of the band,” Neal says. “We tried to pick not only friends and good players, but people we felt would be around town for a while. Brent, Sarah and I all agreed we wanted a degree of stability in the ensemble, rather than a hodgepodge of players we’d have to recruit each time. We are mostly 20s-30s free-lancers. And we like that we are independent.”
It’s a salient point for the ensemble gaining a new and expanded audience for new and alt-classical music. As happened with Chamber Cartel’s debut in January, Neal expects Terminus to draw youthful fans. “I think we can help cultivate that audience. Not alone, but I think we can play an important part.”
The concert will include “secret music” by Demos, “Circular Arguments” by Hersh, “Piano Etudes” by Jason Freeman, “Mirror Universes 6” by Neal, “Inventio Fortunata” by Drew Dolan and “Between the Walls” by Milam.” The performers will be Isaac Anderson and Olivia Kieffer, percussion; Ipek Brooks, piano; Mike Brooks, viola; Nicole Chamberlain, flute; Katie Curran, clarinet; and Erin Ellis, cello.