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Music, visuals and words at the Composers Sound and Vision Festival

Sound and vision go together like … well, they just do, ever since the talkies revolutionized the visual world of the movies, cell phone cameras made us all film directors, and computers became the communal screen.

But even the silents featured music: Theater pianists and mighty Wurlitzer organists were pillars of the community. And then there are words: The script, libretto, or lyrics. And doesn’t all that just go together like … opera perhaps, or the Nevada County Composers Cooperative’s annual Sound and Vision Festival?

The 2011 festival on Friday, March 4, breaks new ground, featuring not just music, video and multimedia, but the spoken word as well.



“Sound and Vision is a wide-open concept,” says Mark Vance, festival executive director. “Over six years the festival has morphed from a mini-film festival into something a bit different.”

This year’s program is a web of poetry, dance, visuals, sound, narration and song, spun to the music of Jerry Grant, Mark Vance, Jay Sydeman, Richard Altenbach and Phil Di Leo and Matt Drake, students in the MIM Young Composers Program. The weavers are an extraordinary lineup of local instrumentalists, singers and actors, as well as nationally acclaimed Nevada County poets Molly Fisk and Steve Sanfield.




Sanfield will read haiku from his collection The Perfect Breeze, which soprano Dawn Simmons, with pianist Paul Perry, will perform to the music of Vance. Sydeman’s The Song for a Healer is a multimedia work inspired by a sculpture by Kurt Steger interpreted by poet Sanfield. Fisk will read three poems to Grant’s sound score, played by him on jazz saxophone.

Di Leo’s evocative Constellations and Drake’s affirmative Invictus get second hearings following their recent well-received premieres. Artist Cassandra Wahlstrom presents Elements, a video and performance piece with sound by Vance. And composer Altenbach, inspired by his young son, offers his setting of Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, a gentle yet profound discourse about human behavior and personal integrity, read by actor John Deaderick, accompanied by an instrumental ensemble.

“By including such artists as Deaderick, Fisk, Sanfield and Wahlstrom we have an opportunity to merge new music with some of the amazing creativity in our community,” says Vance.

Sound and Vision has established itself as a “go to” event, its audience not always the usual crowd. It’s edgy and exciting, an opportunity to hear new music in an unfamiliar guise.

“First comes the music, then the words,” says the composer, a character in Strauss’ opera Capriccio. “First the words, then the music,” retorts the poet. The Countess, patron of the arts, knows better. Words and the music need each other, and in Sound and Vision the visual completes the picture.

Charles Atthill lives in Alta Sierra.


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