By Kurt Loft
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Music for Modern Ears
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St. Pete and Tampa
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Wouldn’t it be cool to meet Beethoven? You sit down over beers and talk about his symphonies, how he composed music without hearing it, or what he likes to eat.
But he’s been gone for nearly 200 years, so you missed your moment. That doesn’t mean you can’t catch up with other composers – people who are alive and kicking and writing music for modern ears.
They’ll be in abundant attendance at CAMPGround23, the annual international music festival presenting a series of concerts this week in Tampa and St. Petersburg. The event is organized by the Contemporary Art Music Project (CAMP), with the goal of elevating our senses through new sights and sounds.
“If you go to the big cities like New York and Chicago, there are a lot of things happening musically,’’ says Eunmi Ko, the festival’s founder and associate professor of piano at USF. “But we didn’t have anything like this here, so we’ve needed it…
“New music has to be performed – otherwise, classical music is going to die.’’
The festival hosts four concerts, a pair of world premieres; 28 composers from the United States, Europe and Asia; and 16 performing artists, including members of the Tampa City Ballet.
Although international in scope, the goal is to develop the Tampa Bay area’s cultural profile and give audiences a taste of cutting-edge, often provocative compositions, performances and installations.
Of course, what is considered “new’’ can be quite old. After all, world premieres and innovative trends have been part of the cultural dialog for centuries, challenging audiences who hear music for the first time.
Many masterpieces with us today were once considered radical and perplexing. The first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring caused a riot, and critics described early performances of Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue as “inaccessible and incomprehensible.’’ Both works are now integral to the musical lexicon.
“In Beethoven’s time, he was contemporary and really new,’’ says Ko, 42, who founded CAMP in 2021. “Everyone goes through that. Imagine if there was no new music, no new repertoire. But you had it back then just as you have it today, because you can’t have only Beethoven or Shakespeare for the next 200 years.’’
Highlights of the festival include a world premiere of the installation piece, Sandbox Dreams, as well as the first-ever public performance of a trumpet concerto by Korean composer Sangbin Rhie, called Caged Dream of Stuffed Ludwig.
How will audiences respond? Will they embrace new sights and sounds or reject them? That’s the whole point – it’s up to each person to decide what they like – or may not like. Adventurous programs, after all, require a certain gamble.
“Yes, there’s always risk,’’ Ko says. “I’ve met a lot of people without experience in classical music, but they love new sounds. I think people in general are more receptive and more ready than they think they might be.’’
The CAMP format encourages interaction between audiences and creative artists, which isn’t hard when the person who wrote the piece you just heard is sitting a few feet away.
“Because you’re listening to music by composers who are actually there,’’ adds Ko, “you can go up and meet them afterward.’’
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- Thursday, March 16 at 7:30 pm, Tempus Projects, 1624 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City. The program includes solo compositions and a variety of international artists.
- Friday, March 17 at 2 pm, The Factory, 2622 Fairfield Ave. S., St. Petersburg (free admission). This matinee includes ensemble pieces, electronic music and a performance by the Tampa City Ballet.
- Friday, March 17 at 7:30 pm, The Factory, 2622 Fairfield Ave. S., St. Petersburg. Included are a work inspired by the poetry of Walt Whitman and the premiere of Rhei’s piece for trumpet, electronics and percussion.
- Saturday, March 18 at 4 pm, The Campground, 4216 N 31st St, Tampa. The closing concert features music for solo piano, keyboard and other instruments.
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