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Gabriel Prokofiev, the grandson of the prolific classical composer Sergei, has music in his blood. But Gabriel takes a different spin entirely on classical music. Based in London and founder of the Nonclassical record label, Prokofiev visits Milwaukee Saturday, Sept. 18 for Present Music’s season opener and the American debut of Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, an […]

Gabriel Prokofiev, the grandson of the prolific classical composer Sergei, has music in his blood. But Gabriel takes a different spin entirely on classical music. Based in London and founder of the Nonclassical record label, Prokofiev visits Milwaukee Saturday, Sept. 18 for Present Music’s season opener and the American debut of Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, an unorthodox pairing of scratching and strings.

The Present Music ensemble will perform under the artistic direction of Kevin Stalheim. DJ Madhatter (aka 88.9’s exuberant morning host Jordan Lee) will tear it up on the turntables in time with strings. It’s a funky collision of sounds that reverberates through your body and might just make you want to dance. Prokofiev will also record and remix the music performed during the concert for a finale of never-heard-before, never-hear-again composition.

What made Madhatter a viable candidate for the gig is his ability to read music, a skill uncommon among DJs and one he acquired in high school band and orchestra as a percussionist. There are parts in the composition that call for ad libbing, but Madhatter still has to follow the measures and dynamics of the orchestra. There is technically scratch notation for the music, but it just dictates what direction the record moves. “Basically, I have sound samples that I manipulate to match the orchestra,” Madhatter says.

Prokofiev produced dance, electro and hip-hop music prior to returning to his classical roots to compose Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, which premiered in London in 2007 with DJ Yoda and Heritage Orchestra. “I’ve personally never combined strings with scratching before, but I am anxious,” Madhatter says. “It’s literally the most difficult thing I have ever seen for a DJ.” 

This concert will also be the swan song for Phillip Bush, Present Music’s keyboardist/pianist of 15 years. He will perform the 22-minute, technically complex piano concerto by György Ligeti, one of the most influential and experimental composers of the late 20th century. In addition to his work with Present Music, Bush has performed with notable names in music such as the London Sinfonietta, Cincinnati Symphony, Houston Symphony, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Kronos Quartet and the Miami String Quartet. “He combines this musicality with an open and adventurous mind and extraordinary technical skill making him an instant and invaluable leader,” Stalheim says.

To balance out the other modern pieces, the Present Music ensemble will perform the melodic and slow Sea Tropes by Ingram Marshall and Prokofiev’s more classically minded String Quartet No. 1 and 2, which are acoustic, but mix pop and classical. “We try to incorporate a variety of music in all of our concerts so that there is something for everyone,” Stalheim says.

Modern music often gets a bad rap as being disjointed and one dimensional. Stalheim admits that sometimes he doesn’t like or get it the first time he hears a piece either, but he assures it’s much easier to grasp when heard live. “Live music is just so powerful.”

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Founded by Kevin Stalheim, Present Music has been cultivating contemporary music by living composers, commissioning new works and bringing cutting edge performances to Milwaukee for 29 years. “If you get trapped listening to only stuff you like, you’ll get bored, stuck in a rut,” Stalheim says. “We attract adventurous people and there are a lot of them out there.”

So go ahead, give into your adventurous side. The concert is a one-night-only affair (Sept. 18) and takes place at Turner Hall ballroom. For more info or to snag $20 or $30 tickets (or half off if you are a student), visit: http://presentmusic.org/ or call 414-271-0711.

 

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