Antoine Hunter/Purple Fire Crow performs with New Century Chamber Orchestra musicians — from left, Nicole Sauder, Jenny Douglass and Michelle Djokic — in Episode 2 of the online “Resonance Series.” <ins>(Courtesy David Law)</ins>

Antoine Hunter/Purple Fire Crow performs with New Century Chamber Orchestra musicians — from left, Nicole Sauder, Jenny Douglass and Michelle Djokic — in Episode 2 of the online “Resonance Series.” (Courtesy David Law)

Chamber musicians unite with sculptor, dancer on film

Clever collaborations in New Century Chamber Orchestra’s ‘Resonance Series’

New Century Chamber Orchestra’s “Resonance Series,” a unique two-episode free virtual film project streaming starting this week, pairs music with sculpture by San Francisco couturière Colleen Quen and dance by choreographer and advocate for the deaf Antoine Hunter.

In crafting the series, which explores Quen’s and Hunter’s artistic spaces as they create works inspired by NCCO performances, the musical group revisits a format used in its “Hope@Home” broadcast in November and the opening of its 2021 virtual season presented by Stanford Live May 20 (the world premiere of Tan Dun’s Double Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra) — but with key twists.

“We wanted the ‘Resonance Series’ to have more narrative and visual emphasis, almost like an indie documentary,” says NCCO Executive Director Richard Lonsdorf. “I’ve always found audiences to be curious about how a concert comes together, especially when they learn something about the very real human beings who are making it happen. So what became the ‘Resonance Series’ is NCCO’s attempt to invite someone into our musical space to tell their story and create something with us. The viewer gets to see both the process and the result.”

New Century Chamber Orchestra players Jenny Douglass, left, and Michelle Djokic appear in the group’s virtual “Resonance Series” of free performances; streaming starts on May 27. (Courtesy David Law)

New Century Chamber Orchestra players Jenny Douglass, left, and Michelle Djokic appear in the group’s virtual “Resonance Series” of free performances; streaming starts on May 27. (Courtesy David Law)

After receiving input from Quen and Hunter, the group chose Claude Debussy’s “Sacred Dance” and “Profane Dance” for harp and strings for Quen, and Missy Mazzoli’s “Death Valley Junction” for string quartet for Hunter, selections Lonsdorf calls “great musical matches.”

“Debussy’s ‘Sacred and Profane Dances’ have such a joyous, ephemeral quality to them, and I think their spirit is really embedded into the sculpture Colleen Quen designed for us. It has such exuberant line and color, which you get to see her creating as the music develops,” says Lonsdorf, who adds, “For Antoine Hunter, his love of minimalist music was a starting point in our conversations, along with the intense drive he feels to create as an artist. Mazzoli’s ‘Death Valley Junction’ fit really nicely in terms of its urgency and intensity, and the choreography he created is so wonderfully full of emotion and momentum.”

Quen, who designs high-fashion apparel from her San Francisco atelier, has been outfitting celebrities and luminaries for decades. Her often-inspired-by-nature creations have appeared in Flair and Vogue and on TV in “America’s Next Top Model.”

Fashion designer and sculptor Colleen Quen created a piece in collaboration with New Century Chamber Orchestra for its virtual “Resonance Series.” (Courtesy David Law)

Fashion designer and sculptor Colleen Quen created a piece in collaboration with New Century Chamber Orchestra for its virtual “Resonance Series.” (Courtesy David Law)

The sculpture Quen created in Episode 1, which begins streaming at noon May 27, is bathed in the sounds of a composer known for such nature-evoking works as “La Mer.”

“As I create through sound, I see shapes and colors and feel emotions that then come to life in my meditations,” says Quen, who adds, “I see the story in my mind; every note that the harp, violin, bass or viola play fuels me to react with shapes and colors and even a story in my mind.” Those shapes, she says, “come into a sculptural form and silhouette on a human body form.”

Hunter, also known as Purple Fire Crow, has his own Urban Jazz Dance Company in San Francisco — an ensemble of deaf and hearing dancers — and his works have been performed internationally.

His choreographic opus in Episode 2, online starting at noon June 17, will be accessible to the deaf community though American Sign Language, closed captioning and other adaptations.

In addition to advocating for the deaf community, Hunter is driven by themes of humanity, communication and inclusivity.

“We create magic on stage hoping that magic will heal hearts. The story of my life is that dance saved my life and I want it to save other people’s lives,” Hunter says. “Many imagine this story is a perfect life, but I’m here to say the struggle continues and this isn’t a fairy tale. We need to work together to heal, to communicate better, and learn how to listen to each other better.”

Hunter goes on, “New Century Chamber Orchestra and their music showed me they are about the truth to be shared. They are not about just looking pretty and sounding pretty but being real and sounding real, allowing the freedom to express. If you work with me whether or not you know sign language, you gotta be able to open up and share the real expression from your soul and heart!”

Though the Resonance Series was created by the pandemic, NCCO sees is as part of the group’s long-term future.

“I would love to see us continue to film projects in addition to returning to live concerts; it’s a wonderful opportunity to broaden our audience and share our music beyond the Bay Area,” Lonsdorf says. “I can’t imagine we’ll stop doing it, so the question is really how to layer it into everything else we do in a given year. It will be a challenge, but then again, we’ve already navigated so many challenges to get through this past year. I feel emboldened by what we’ve been able to achieve, and I’m excited to keep it going.”

To watch the Resonance Series, visit https://www.ncco.org/resonance.

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