Last spring, with performances cancelled for the remainder of the Taos Chamber Music Group's 27th season due to COVID, the ensemble's director and flutist Nancy Laupheimer knew she had to start finding new ways for the group to create and share music with their audiences. Out of that came the Taos Chamber Music Group COVID Commissioning Project in which the music group musicians would be given the opportunity to make connections with composers to create music that reflected the times we have been living through.
The first of these commissions, "Imaginary Companions," has been completed and is ready for its world premiere on Thursday (Feb. 18), 5 p.m., as part of the Taos Center for the Arts "Where We Meet" series, collaborating with TCMG to present "A Conversation with Pascal Le Boeuf and Taos Chamber Music Group," a free Zoom event that features the world premiere performed by Laupheimer and recorded in the Taos Community Auditorium, as well as a live conversation between Laupheimer and Le Boeuf.
"The inspiring and compelling thing for me, and many musicians I know or have met since the pandemic began, is the creative, virtual connections that are being made, despite the fact that chamber music has always been about physical, in-person presence!" said Laupheimer. "When I decided that one of the most useful things I could do as a musician and director was to support the creation of new music, the path opened to working with composers and performers from many different places in a way that inspired each of us and that is being shared with the public in new ways. This has been motivating, fulfilling, and something significant we can offer to listeners in the community and beyond.
"The tenor of that first connection with Pascal laid the groundwork for what is now going to be three new Taos Chamber Music Group commissions that speak to the events of the past year," she continued. "Pascal has such an open heart and engaging mind, combined with evocative musical ideas that defy genres. We really got to know each other over Zoom on a much deeper level than I had anticipated. Something about the urgency to make music during this intense and restricted time is driving a level of passion and perception that perhaps was not the same before."
Le Boeuf, whose music has been described as "hyper-fluent" by the New York Times, is not only an award-winning composer, but a Grammy-nominated jazz pianist, doctoral candidate in Music Composition at Princeton University, and electronic artist. He wrote "Imaginary Companions" especially for Laupheimer.
"I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy through our mutual friend and colleague Michael Avitabile," said Le Boeuf. "Michael and I had worked together when the pandemic hit and us artists were all scrambling to simultaneously find meaning in our creative rituals, and to find audiences through our computer screens. This was when Michael contacted me to ask if I had any solo flute material that he might perform virtually. I gave him a lesser-known piece called 'Vicodin' for flute and electronics that explored sound as a way to escape from reality. After hearing his performance online Nancy contacted me to perform 'Vicodin' at a TCA drive-in concert and I was floored by her sensitivity, depth and moving interpretation. This led to discussions about a new work for flute and tape.
"Considering the feelings of isolation we were struggling with as a result of remote life (at this point we were about 3-4 months into the pandemic)," Le Boeuf continued, "we were looking to music to help fill the void. One very special quality about making music is that it provides a way for us to transform negative emotions (like pain, despair or loneliness) into something beautiful, relatable or meaningful. Nancy and I both particularly missed interacting and making music with other people and this became the foundation upon which we built our piece together.
"I had just done a remote workshop with my friend, cellist Zan Barry, during which we experimented with sampling a range of unusual cello sounds to construct a multitudinous orchestra of cellos in an imaginary space," said Le Boeuf. "We were just sitting on all of this wonderful audio material, and when Nancy and I began to discuss ideas I could see these two projects (and artists) belonged together. What would happen if Zan and I could create an imaginary string orchestra for Nancy to perform with as a soloist? This became the guiding principle for the piece. As I was composing and mixing the cellos, I would fondly think of Zan projecting imaginary versions of himself into each cello's position, slowly building an orchestra one seat at a time. Once these 'imaginary companions' were established, Nancy's more soloistic part came about as a series of playful improvisations in conversation with Zan's world.
"After some back and forth, Nancy and I found that in order to perform the music, Nancy had to become very familiar with the minute details hidden in the cello world to imbue the music with a true experience of conversation," Le Boeuf noted. "This went above and beyond what most musicians are capable of doing. Many can execute a notated piece of music, but to listen carefully to small external details while simultaneously creating music internally, and responding in a seemingly improvised manner -- this takes a special sort of musician and human being. I am so thrilled to have worked through this music, and this pandemic, with the companionship of such a kind and thoughtful person as Nancy Laupheimer."
"The piece Pascal created for me, 'Imaginary Companions,' is such a gift and truly a 'companion' in this time of isolation," said Laupheimer. "Playing the flute continues to be my refuge as a constant source of emotional exploration and centering, intellectual curiosity and stimulation, and of course, ineffable beauty.
"I am very grateful to the TCA for their support of TCMG with their 'Where We Meet' series (this is the second time we have recorded on the TCA stage and had an interview with the composer opened to the public via Zoom)," Laupheimer concluded. "I love that we can continue to work together across arts organizations in Taos and hope that brings more collaborations in the future."