MIX Music Series

INTERVIEW: Kathryn Ladano – Artistic Director at NUMUS (New Music Now)

NUMUS

This is an exciting time for fans of live music in Kitchener-Waterloo. Part of this excitement is NUMUS (New Music Now) which is embarking on its 30th season of adventurous, artistic music performances. From their own website, “NUMUS showcases established and emerging talent from across Canada and the globe in Waterloo’s world-class venues. Diverse musical genres, traditional and experimental instruments and scored and improvised elements come together to create unique concert going experiences that capture the fluidity and relevance of contemporary music.”

To go with this 30th anniversary, NUMUS has selected a new Artistic Director, whom I have managed to secure an interview with. Kathryn Ladano is very busy these days, but fortunately I had an inside track to getting hold of her. This is what she had to say about NUMUS, new music, and the 30th year.

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1. Let’s start with a basic question, since the majority of my readers are not from Canada – what exactly is NUMUS?

NUMUS is a presenter and producer of cutting edge contemporary music concerts in the community of Kitchener-Waterloo. By contemporary music, I primarily mean music by living composers within the Western art music tradition, however, we do move beyond that as well. For example, this season we are also featuring freely improvised music, music that blurs the line between composition and improvisation, and this Sunday we’re featuring Korean improviser-percussionist and vocalist Dong-Won Kim with guests.

2. You have said that NUMUS has “has put Kitchener-Waterloo on the new music map”. Can you describe what “new music” means to you personally?

To me, new music simply means compositions from the Western art music tradition written within the past 50 years or so. While many consider new music to be anything written after 1900, I consider it to be newer than that. This is music that needs to be better supported by the public. It’s different, and can be challenging for your average listener, which is why symphony orchestras for example have a hard time moving forward and getting their audiences to readily accept this type of music being programmed. The alternative, however, is music that is literally hundreds of years old, and while that music is great, there is also great music being made here and now. This is the music I’m interested in listening to, performing, producing, and presenting.

3. This year is NUMUS’ 30th, but your first as artistic director. What pressure does that add, if any?

NUMUS has an impressive list of past Artistic Directors (Peter Hatch, Glenn Buhr, Jesse Stewart, Jeremy Bell, and Anne-Marie Donovan), and it is intimating to be following in the footsteps of those individuals. I personally find that more intimidating than properly celebrating our 30th year. Plans are in place to celebrate this milestone though, and these include bringing back each of the previous Artistic Directors to curate a unique program throughout 2015. I will also be curating a celebratory program, and I think all of these concerts strongly reflect the strengths and artistic personalities of each of NUMUS’ Artistic Directors.

4. You have said that you would like to reach out to a younger audience. What do you think will attract young people to the shows?

This year, NUMUS has officially added a side series to its programming called The MIX Music Series. Tickets for this series are about half the price of our main series tickets, and the series itself focuses on improvisatory music and emerging artists. I am hopeful that this series will really resonate with younger audiences as many of the artist we present in the series will be very recent post-secondary graduates just starting to embark on their careers. There are also very few places where young audiences can regularly support emerging artists outside of educational institutions. I feel that the MIX Series has the most potential for growing our younger audience base and getting these people out to experience high quality, affordable live music.

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5. Affordable is a plus.  But what appeal will NUMUS offer to open-minded rock fans and musicians in the KW area?

Any open-minded music lover will find something attractive in NUMUS’ 2014-2015 program offerings, whether it be multi-media concerts that celebrate music and film, a world-class percussion quartet, a concert of improvised vingnettes with guitar and electronics, or a concert featuring a new instrument called the reactable (a digital sampler with a tangible user interface on an illuminated tabletop) that also features video projections and recordings from the Voyager golden records.

6. Wow, is that cool!  That’s definitely something I’m interested in hearing.  Now, you have stressed that you believe in support for young artists. What support did you receive when you were starting out?

It was difficult when I started out, and I really had to be very proactive and create a lot of my own opportunities. I was at a huge disadvantage in that I played a relatively unpopular instrument (the bass clarinet) without a lot of traditional job opportunities, and I also wanted to focus on new music and free improvisation. I had a lot of support from the educational institutions I attended, and I also received a couple of grants early in my career which allowed me to study with Lori Freedman in Montreal, and also do my first mini-tour, performing new music pieces I studied in grad school. Both of these opportunities led to new connections and helped me to advance.

7. Lastly, can you please share your spice cookie recipe?

Yes!

Spice Cookies:
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp. molasses
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
extra sugar for dipping

  • Cream sugar and butter. Blend egg and molasses with the creamed mixture.
  • Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture – mix well.
  • Put dough in refrigerator until firm (about 1-2 hours) – or put in the freezer if you are pressed for time – this makes the dough easier to form.
  • Take small amounts of dough, form into balls, and roll in sugar, Place these on an un-greased cookie sheet about 2″ apart.
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes at 325F – they should be moist and chewy.
  • Enjoy!

KATHRYN

CONCERT REVIEW: When Styles Collide (April 5 2013)

I’ve known one of these artists for 40 years, the other since she was born.  Rob Szabo is a childhood friend, and Kathryn Ladano got all the musical talent in my family!

563656_10152710710545468_886971882_nWhen Styles Collide:

MIX Music Series Concert #2


Musicians:

April 5, 2013, the Button Factory, Kitchener Ontario

Sponsored by NUMUS Concerts

Mix 2 posterA lot of rock fans can get into more cutting edge music, things a bit more challenging.  Many of us have ears already opened, by progressive rock giants such as Deep Purple, Dream Theater, and Frank Zappa.  When some of the region’s best musicians from various genres gather together to improvise live with an audience, it’s gonna be interesting.  The basic concept of When Styles Collide was to bring together players from different backgrounds, and see what happens.  Although some songs are pre-written pieces, all of the performances contained music made up entirely on the spot at one point or another.  Some are completely spontaneous.

Rob Szabo is a well known singer/songwriter and producer (his production helped bluesman Steve Strongman win a Juno award in 2013 for best Blues album).  Szabo is also a hell of a guitar soloist.  On another side of the musical spectrum is bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano.  Even though the two have known each other for over 35 years (essentially all of Kathryn’s life since they were childhood neighbors), they’d never actually played together before.  Also present was Kathryn’s frequent collaborator and bandmate from the Digital Prowess days, Jason White.  The quintet was completed by Brandon Valdivia on the traps, and Brent Rowan with some smoove saxophone.

A cool spy drama from the early 60′s would make a great backdrop for the first performance (Rowan’s “By Chance”).  Mixing exotic rhythms with hypnotic patterns, sax and drums dominate.  Szabo rocked back and forth to the music before breaking out into a jazz-tinged solo.  Then it’s Ladano’s turn to lead, with some contrasting highs and lows.  The crowd broke into spontaneous applause — something rarely seen at an experimental music geek event such as this, at least in my experience! (I’m told this is more common with jazz crowds.)  They then rolled into an Ian Paice-style drum solo, before coming back to the main riff of the song.

The second piece, “A Side of Me” is one of Rob’s songs, led by a mournful riff, before Jason White joins him.  This is a vocal number, with Rob Szabo’s expressive vocals.  It sounds like it exists somewhere in early Radiohead, before they got too carried away with themselves.

Then it’s a slow jam (“Sketch 1″ from Valdivia), perhaps from that same 1960′s spy drama.  But this is the scene where our spy’s had too much to drink and he’s wandering around some dark alley after a heavy rain.  This is followed by “Rorschach” named for the classic vigilante from The Watchmen.  It’s a more chaotic jam, perhaps reflecting the character’s on-the-edge life.  Some seriously eerie sax and bass clarinet keep you on the edge, while the percussion is a distant thunderstorm.

Rob said “Incandescent” was written during a period of heavy touring.  It’s one of Rob’s best tunes, melodic and melancholy, but with an occasional glimmer to let you know he’ll be OK.  The band seemed to be having fun jamming behind him.  Brent Rowan’s sax solo was appropriate and stunning on its own, but then Jason white took the lead with some fluttering piano awesome-sauce.

The band closed their first set with an improvisation, a rhythmic jam.  It’s really cool to see and hear the music build, like waves.  You can catch glances back and forth, the musicians communicating by eye, but most of the time they seem well ensconced in their playing.  It’s also cool to know that the music never existed before this moment, and if it wasn’t for the recording equipment, it would also be lost forever just after that moment.

The second set began rhythmically, with a catchy instrumental jam (“Sketch 2″).  There were solos from the wind instruments, and a constant background of interesting and sometimes exotic rhythms.  Rob Szabo laid down a guitar part that looked really really hard; his eyes concentrating on a music stand in front of him, his hand making giant leaps up and down the frets!  A cool drum solo was also captivating.  Kathryn explains:

“The two Sketches do have some basic material that we are following.  That’s why you hear a lot of melodies repeat. It features a small amount of notes and a basic structure that tells you how often to repeat, and when to solo. That’s how we’re able to end together, because it tells us that too. Despite the structure, the two Sketches are still very free and allow us to each do our own thing a lot of the time.”

“Good Son” is from Rob Szabo’s Sore Loser, part of a double EP.  The band didn’t obstruct the quiet song, but instead accented it.  I enjoyed Jason White’s complimentary piano lines.

The jazz-funk of “Funk” (good title) rocked, like a sweaty version of “Pickin’ Up the Pieces”, saxophone taking center stage.  Then, surprisingly, a spoken word piece.  Szabo put down the guitar and exchanged it for the microphone; the words were Nietzsche.  Jason White wrote the music, which he called “Fierce Fighter”.

Kathryn wrote “I Told You So”, a tricky little number that employs some of her favourite bass clarinet tricks.  It also seems to dance around the main rhythm to “Sunshine of Your Love”.  It’s pretty lyrical and out there, very cool and weird.  The band ended with a final Szabo song, “Police Report” that evolved into an extended jam.  Rob’s echo-y guitar solo ended the show on a particularly noisy, rock n’ roll note.

4.5/5 stars

Set 1:
1. “By Chance” by Brent Rowan
2. “A Side of Me” by Rob Szabo
3. “Sketch 1” by Brandon Valdivia
4. Improvisation by Kathryn Ladano, Brent Rowan, and Brandon Valdivia
5. “Rorschach” by Jon Maheraj (arranged by Jason White)
6. “Incandescent” by Rob Szabo
7. Group Improvisation
Set 2:
1. “Sketch 2” by Brandon Valdivia
2. “Good Son” by Rob Szabo
3. “Funk” by Brent Rowan
4. “Fierce Fighter” by Jason White
5. “I Told You So” by Kathryn Ladano
6. “Police Report” by Rob Szabo (leads into a final group improvisation)
Some photos by Martin LePage