News Column

'Spontaneous Combustion': Musicians felt fire the first time they played together

June 2, 2013


June 02--Jacquelyn Bartlett has a vivid memory of the first time that Fire Pink Trio performed together.

"It was like spontaneous combustion," she said.

Bartlett, a harpist who teaches at UNC School of the Arts, and flutist Debra Reuter-Pivetta, a UNCSA graduate who teaches at Salem College, were scheduled to perform at a chamber-music series in Boone in 2008. They were planning to play music featuring harp, flute and viola.

When the violist they had planned to work with backed out, Sheila Browne, who was then fairly new to the faculty at UNCSA, agreed to step in.

"We sat down to play, and it was like coming home," Bartlett said. "The three of us had such a great time playing, talking and discussing music."

And the audience reaction was equally strong. "There was thunderous applause," she said. "It took us about two seconds to say, 'Let's make a permanent trio out of our group.'"

But coming up with a name took longer.

One member would come up with an idea, but not all three of them would like it. Then another would come up with a name that the others wouldn't like. That went on for a while.

"I was getting tired of it," Bartlett said. "One day I picked up a book I had on North Carolina wildflowers and turned to the index."

She found the name of a low-growing flower that blooms in the spring in the mountains: Fire Pink.

"Fire, for what we felt the first time we played together, and pink because we were all women," Bartlett said. "We all liked it."

Much of the work the group performs is relatively contemporary, as the first piece ever written for harp, flute and viola, a sonata by Debussy, wasn't written until 1915. But the group also does its own transcriptions of classical pieces.

It performs jazz, tango and other kinds of music. "We like to mix up our programs," Bartlett said.

The program on Thursday at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art will be no exception.

It opens with a work by Adrienne Albert titled "Doppler Effect," inspired by rush hour in Rome. "That's a fun, bright piece," Bartlett said.

The second work on the program is "Ice Counterpoint," a 33-minute work composed by Terry Mizesko of Raleigh, using photos and video shot by Brooks de Wetter-Smith during a trip to the Arctic in 2007 in connection with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions.

As the trio plays, the audience will see photos and video of the landscape, polar bears, walruses, birds and plant life. "It's a very large range of life," said de Wetter-Smith, a professor of music at UNC Chapel Hill who is also a photographer. "It isn't just icebergs."

And it isn't just a travelogue. "It's looking at the environment and some of the impact that human presence is having up there," he said. "There's a kind of undercurrent to all this, which is a statement about the importance of this area as a pristine area of the world and the effect of our encroaching on that."

De Wetter Smith created a similar project, "Ice Blink," after a 2006 trip to the Antarctic. It's now out on DVD through the Centaur label.

"I've been really intrigued by combining the arts, as with the music and visual elements," he said. "Too often the arts are too silo-oriented. There is some magic that can be created as we begin combining art forms."

He also has a project in the works about rainforests that incorporates music, interpretive dance and improvised theater.

Working with Mizesko was wonderful, he said. "I think he came up with a really delightful work."

Mizesko was also pleased with the result, although the process was difficult at times.

"We went bass-ackwards," he said with a laugh.

Usually when you're writing music for a film, you start with the film, but de Wetter Smith gave him some photos first and Mizesko started writing the music. "And he took my music and put the video with it," Mizesko said.

Mizesko wanted the music to support the images, not distract from them, "so if you listen to the music by itself, it doesn't stand by itself," he said. But they work well together.

He wrote three delicate waltz-like movements. "A waltz is a very fragile thing," he said. "And these images look very grandiose but they're actually fragile."

The harp, flute and viola parts are also delicate, he said. So is the soprano part he added, which will be sung by Elizabeth Pacheco Rose. "I didn't want to give her words that people could understand," he said. "Basically, I'm using her as another instrument."

Taken altogether, the piece is amazing, Bartlett said.

"The music is beautiful and the images are stunning," she said. "It makes an incredible statement about our environment."

The program will end with a "long, beautiful and very interesting" work by Lyle Mays titled "Twelve Days in the Shadow of a Miracle," Bartlett said.

Mays is a jazz pianist and composer who works with guitarist Pat Metheny. The piece was inspired by an illness that a family member suffered and the emotions that the family went through during the process of his recovery.

"It's full of enormous beauty and incredible, driving rhythms and exciting sounds," Bartlett said.

It also uses a CD of recorded sounds, such as synthesizers and wind chimes. Bartlett likes the multimedia aspect of the piece and thinks that the audience will respond to it.

"I think the public is attracted to that kind of thing."

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