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Opus 21: Music in the key of diversity

By | 2018-01-16T02:07:34-05:00 October 31st, 2017|Uncategorized|
Spring concerts feature world premiere compositions with a Motown flavor

KALAMAZOO – Once upon a time, music lovers were a persnickety bunch. Tchaikovsky lovers supported the local symphony, Brubeck aficionados hit the jazz clubs and Manilow fans kept a low profile; rarely did anyone venture outside their comfort zones. That wall is beginning to crumble, thanks in part to a contemporary music group with roots in Michigan and New York.
Opus 21, founded in 2002, is the brainchild of Richard Adams, a Kalamazoo-based composer of contemporary classical music. And as its name implies, its goal is to produce musical works of the twenty-first century.
“Since the musicians and myself are very interested in a lot of different kinds of music – and I think a lot of people these days are – we thought that creating programs that bring together a diversity of music would be an interesting concept,” Adams recently told BTL. “When we talked about forming the group, the idea was to do something a little different than other ensembles that are devoted specifically to one genre. There weren’t really any ensembles out there doing that.”
It’s an idea, Adams said, that began percolating after collaborating with both classical and jazz musicians throughout his career.
“Since a number of the musicians were very fluent in classical music and jazz, we drew upon their diverse nature and formed an ensemble that would do jazz works, classical works, popular music and world music to create sort of a multi-genre program.”
But with a twist, Adams pointed out.
“The way we program our work, there’s usually a connection – a flow. We might start out with a classical work that has some jazz influences that would then segue way into a jazz work that has some classical influences. We’re trying to make connections between genres.”
It’s a fresh approach to music that has been embraced by a wide variety of music lovers – much to AdamÕs surprise.
“We actually thought [we’d attract] more of a younger crowd, but it really hasn’t turned out that way,” he said. “We have retirees, college students and families. The way the concerts are presented, [everyone] finds something they can relate to.”
Such a diverse interest in their music, Adams feels, is the result of art reflecting our culture: America has become more familiar with- and accepting of – the music of different countries, cultures and ethnic groups.
“In the past couple of decades, we’ve become much more of a multi-culture country,” he reflected. “And so I think audiences – as well as musicians and composers – have been exposed to a lot of different kinds of music.”
The popularity of Rock ‘N Roll, Motown and other more recent styles of music has also played a part, Adams believes. “When young composers become classically trained composers, it’s not surprising that some of these elements might seep their way into their work and form a new kind of genre.”

Spring Tour

For its spring tour, set to open April 29 at Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Concert House, Opus 21 commissioned seven new works. Its theme should strike a chord with local music lovers.
“We wanted the project to have some relevance to our home state,” Adams said. “What happened with Motown in the 1960s was a very boundary-crossing event, culturally as well as musically, and the boundary-crossing nature of it seemed to fit with Opus 21’s mission.”
The music presented will not be Motown songs, Adams cautioned. Instead, they will be original works inspired by or influenced by Motown.
Those participating include a mix of prominent and up-and-coming young composers in the classical, jazz and popular music circles; about half are from Michigan, while the others are from New York. Although each composition is written in the author’s own style, the common theme will provide a connection between the seven.
Among the composers is Joe Hunter, the original pianist, band leader and member of the Funk Brothers. “We asked him to write a piece for us, which he agreed to do.”
Also featured are compositions by two members of the LGBT community: world renowned jazz musician Fred Hersch and Eve Beglarian.
Rounding out the commissions are works by Michael Daugherty, Tom Knific, Daniel Bernard Roumain and Adams.
Funding for the project was provided by the Arcus Gay and Lesbian Fund.
“Arcus is a big supporter of these sorts of things,” Adams acknowledged, “so we went to them and they were very kind enough to make these commissions possible.”
{TAGLINE Opus 21’s spring tour includes the following stops in Michigan: April 29 at the Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Street, Ann Arbor (734-769-2999); and May 6 & 7 at Wellspring Theater at the Epic Center, 359 S. Kalamazoo Mall, Kalamazoo (269-387-2300). For additional information, go online to}

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