Hudson Valley music collective “One Quiet Plunge presented “country/…/city…/” at Studley Theatre on Tuesday, Sept 18. The group has been active in the area for the past four years, and is headed by its artistic director Joshua Groffman. Groffman is based in Western Pennsylvania and is the current Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
For this project, Groffman chose to perform with faculty members of SUNY New Paltz’s music department, including violist Christiana Fortune-Reader, pianist Alex Peh, guitarist Mark Dziuba and keyboardist and pianist Vincent Martucci. Fortune-Reader and Peh have classical backgrounds while Dziuba and Martucci were trained in jazz.
The stage was set up fairly sparsely. It featured Groffman’s electronics, Peh’s piano, Dziuba’s guitar and effects petals and Martucci’s keyboard. Fortune-Reader was in between Groffman and Peh during the performances.
“This project was inspired by the variety of life one sees, and more importantly, hears, in and around the Hudson Valley,” the section written by Groffman reads. “We wanted to capture something of that variety.”
“country/…/city/…/” takes that concept and runs with it. Between the compositional pieces, there are interludes of “found sounds” and free improvisation. Groffman manipulated these sounds by altering their volume and pitch. They included flying birds, rushing water and running cars.
The performers would improvise over the recordings in increasingly novel ways. Dziuba played out a jaunty, steely tune over his guitar while Martucci was attacking the keys on his electric keyboard similar to free jazz artists. Peh and Fortune-Reader took this a step further and were actively assaulting their instruments.
Peh frequently struck the chords within the piano itself, as well as slapping the underside of the piano. Fortune-Reader struck the strings on her viola with her bow. She even bent the bow against the viola’s back, creating an ancient creaking sound. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Dziuba or Martucci one upping them by actually destroying their instruments. It was truly an electrifying and captivating sight to see.
There were also compositional pieces for the performance, which came from personal places, all based in the Hudson Valley. The first piece was “Wavefield,” composed by Caroline Malloneé. It was inspired by artist Maya Lin and her “undulating landscape installation at Storm King.” It was played by Peh and Fortune-Reader, who play back and forth with one another, just as the name of the piece implies.
The next piece was composed by Martucci. In an interview, Martucci expounded on the significance of his piece, “Woodstock Collage.” He based it off his experiences at the Creative Music Studio in the ’70s and ’80s. The music studio was a musical beehive buzzing with activity, focusing on pushing the limits of genres like folk, jazz and afrobeat.
“I studied with Cecil Taylor in Woodstock,” he said. “[There] was a lot of energy, a lot of transplants from New York.”
The piece was designed to be played in an improvisational manner that revolves around several framework sections. By design, the performers are able to choose what section they’d like to play on the fly.
One of the best parts was when Dziuba and Martucci appeared to be dueling with Fortune-Reader and Peh before coming back together as one cohesive unit. It was as if the worlds of classical music and jazz were engaging in a longtime, friendly rivalry before uniting.
Another highlight from the same piece was the “Chorale” section, in which Peh played a moving piano solo. For him, the section overall was “exceptionally beautiful.”
“Alf’s Labyrinth,” was composed by Hannah Selin and the third piece of the night. It was based on Slein’s great-grandfather Alf Evers, a historian who documented the histories of the Woodstock and Catskill areas. This piece is also played by Fortune-Reader and Peh. The duo play this piece emphatically, with Fortune-Reader playing these dissonant viola triplets, which was truly something to behold.
The last piece of the night was Dziuba’s “Moments at the Manor.” He based this piece off the time he spent living at his home in New Paltz. Dziuba wanted to “zero in on a few things that happen in my area.” It’s divided into three parts, all very personal and related to nature. “Dinner With Humming Birds” was based on a time where he was tending to his wisterias, and a hummingbird hovered in front of his face, studying him.
The next part was “Burdened Branches,” which was about the sound of collapsing branches and falling trees during winter snow storms. The final part was “Coyote Boatmen” and it was based on the death of Dziuba’s dog, Billie. She would frequently howl to the coyotes in the area, and as she was passing the coyotes howled intensely over the week, even during the day. When she finally passed, the coyotes seemingly vanished from the area.
A high point during this piece was at a point when Dziuba extended a lengthy drone from his guitar, presumably using an effects pedal and then he played over it in real time. Dziuba expressed his joy working on the piece, saying that working on a technical piece with classical performers, “a gas.” Fortune-Reader also enjoyed the piece saying that she grew to love it as she practiced it. “[Dzuiba’s piece] made a statement in a well constructed package.”
One Quiet Plunge’s performance of “country/…/city/…/” fully expressed the dynamic and diverse breadth of the sounds found in the Hudson Valley, both compoisiontally and sonically, which is a theme that all the performers agree upon. They also expressed their support for living artists, rather than solely focusing on older, classical compositions.