August 22, 2013, Larry Clow in The Wire about the PARMA Music Festival and the premiere of “Streams”
Field Recording: Parma Music Festival at various Portsmouth venues Aug. 15-17
The Parma Music Festival took over most of downtown Portsmouth for three days. With 11 concerts at 10 different venues, festival staff in bright blue t-shirts were everywhere, directing composers and musicians and attendees from one concert to the next. For a few days, it was Parma’s city; the rest of us were just living in it.
The sound of the Parma Music Festival is hard to pin down. There were orchestral and chamber concerts, but there was also jazz, electronic music, and indie-rock. Each genre blended into the next; there were no lines, just music. Songs that you thought were going one way might suddenly go in some unexpected direction and, though you believed you were listening closely, you realize that the Parma Festival asks just as much of its listeners as it does its musicians.
If there was a moment that distilled the festival into its purest moment, it was the Thursday night Seacoast Artist Showcase at The Thirsty Moose. On stage with local favorites fiveighthirteen, cello virtuoso Ovidiu Marinescu played as if in a frenzy. The low level of chatter in the room slowly died down as the music swelled. Mike Walsh’s drumming was fast, feverish, and keys and synth player Mike Effenberger looked something like a mad scientist in the low light, striking keys and turning knobs, while Marinescu took cues from Walsh and guitarist Nick Phaneuf. Each note collected on stage like an electrical charge and, for those standing close to the stage, there was an electric feeling in the air. As the song reached its peak, cheers and applause erupted from the audience, as if we’d been holding our breath with excitement and needed the release.
That sort of feeling could be found at venues large and small. At the festival’s final concert at The Music Hall on Saturday, the audience was so silent during each performance that it was noticeable. There were no cell phones ringing, no shuffling and adjusting of seats, no chatter or coughing, just an intense, almost audible, concentration.
There was plenty on which to concentrate. The Portsmouth Music and Arts Center Jazz Ensemble performed an entrancing three-song set that included a composition by one of PMAC’s students. The Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra String Quartet’s performance of composer Tina Tallon’s “selective defrosting” was similarly captivating, a sonic procession that lead the audience from a meditative moment to a wild frenzy.
Here, and throughout the Parma Festival, there was a constant, unspoken dialogue between the audience and the musicians and between each musician on stage. When clarinetist Matthias Müller and bass trombonist David Taylor took the stage to perform Martin Schlumpf’s “Streams” with the Parma Orchestra, it was as if a great musical debate began. In the piece, written by Schlumpf specifically for Taylor and Müller, the trombone and clarinet dance and duel, clash and connect. It’s a captivating, wholly immersive piece, one that entranced the audience just as much as it entranced the musicians. Taylor and Müller played like men possessed, completely taken over by the piece.
As “Streams” ended, the audience again erupted, as if it’d been unreasonable for us to be silent so long. Schlumpf, who was in the audience, bounded up on to the stage and embraced Müller, Taylor, and conductor John Page. Everyone, from the orchestra to the audience, was smiling, the good feeling palpable. No one spoke—not that they could have, over the applause—but there was no need. We’d all been together to some new, unheard landscape and returned, the same, but slightly different.
It was a feeling that remained as the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra performed three pieces that closed out the concert. By the time the final notes of Arturo Marquez’s Danzon No. 2 faded and the audience gave its fourth or fifth standing ovation of the night, it was clear all of us—musicians and audience alike—had enjoyed the journey together. For some music festivals, the festival activities are the experience and the music is a part of it. But for the Parma Music Festival, the music was the experience and the place and the atmosphere. By Saturday night, it wasn’t Parma that had taken over the city; it was music itself.