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Photo courtesy of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra/Sound Edge Festival.
A still image from “Koyaanisqatsi,” a film by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass.
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Photo courtesy of Roland Vazquez.
The genre-bending Alabama Symphony Orchestra will again break new ground this month when it hosts an ambitious festival of avant-garde music, film, dance and opera.
Venturing beyond the orchestra’s home base at the Alys Stephens Center, ASO musicians will be hanging out at some of Birmingham’s hottest clubs between Feb. 10 and 18, taking on unexpected roles.
The Sound Edge Festival is one of the most adventurous projects in its 96-year history, and ASO will spotlight a cross-pollination of musical styles at venues such as Saturn, Iron City and WorkPlay. Other musical and nonmusical events will be at Seasick Records, the Birmingham Museum of Art, Syndicate Lounge and the shops and cafés of Woodlawn.
“It’s a way to open up the orchestra’s radar and focalize it toward a younger demographic and for those who are more curious,” said Carlos Izcaray, ASO’s music director. “There will be different sounds you may not expect from a traditional orchestra, but there’s also a balance with tradition — Beethoven, who is the most visionary and futuristic composer ever, and a recomposed ‘The Four Seasons,’ looking back to Vivaldi and giving it a contemporary flavor.”
Few American orchestras have committed so fully to new music programming. Over the past decade, ASO has shown the nation’s classical world what the future looks like. The winner of four awards for adventurous programming from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the organization took ASCAP’s highest honor in 2011, topping the likes of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Minnesota Orchestra for the “strongest commitment to American music.”
The festival is an outgrowth of ASO’s Classical Edge Series, which ran from 2008 to 2016. Izcaray is looking to continue the same experimental format but in a festival mode that takes the music to new public venues.
“In a contemporary city like Birmingham, there’s so much going on that one cannot expect the subscription model for a series like Classical Edge to work out like it used to,” Izcaray said. “Once I floated the festival idea to the orchestra, there was acceptance and enthusiasm from all the collaborating organizations.”
This season’s resident scribe is Susan Botti, a New York-based composer who will play a big role at the festival. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Rome Prize and numerous other grants and awards, Botti also performs in many of her works, a rare practice among composers.
“My background is theater first,” said Botti, a soprano, from her home north of New York. “That sense of training in theater, going from classics to contemporary work, is something I love.”
Botti will sing at SEF Feb. 14 at WorkPlay in her “Telaio: Desdemona,” a work for soprano, string quartet, harp, percussion and piano inspired by the character from Shakespeare’s “Othello.”
Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Botti’s “EchoTempo” will be played by the full orchestra Feb. 16 at the Alys Stephens Center, also featuring Botti as soloist.
Sound Edge Festival
- Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m.: ASO Amplified: NYCO at Iron City.
- Feb. 11, 7 p.m.: Excursions in Recorded Sound: DJs, Flaming Lips at Seasick Records.
- Feb. 12, 6 p.m.: Artikulation: Graphic Scores of the Avant Garde at Saturn.
- Feb. 13, 6 p.m.: Lecture by Carlos Izcaray, screening of “Koyaanisqatsi” at Birmingham Museum of Art.
- Feb. 14, 7:30 p.m.: Contemporary Visions: Inspired by Shakespeare at WorkPlay.
- Feb. 15, 8 p.m.: Future Elevators; also featuring AROVA Contemporary Ballet and Opera Birmingham at Syndicate Lounge.
- Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m.: ASO Presents EchoTempo at Alys Stephens Center.
- Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m.: Waves of Woodlawn at 55th Place North and First Avenue.
- Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.: The Four Seasons Recomposed at Alys Stephens Center.
- MORE INFO: alabamasymphony.org.
Editor’s note: This article was produced in partnership with artsBHAM. To learn more about them, visit artsbham.com.