NEC Contemporary Improvisation + Lautaro Mantilla: Tradition

NEC: Jordan Hall | Directions

290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA
United States

“I am not from here, but neither are you.
Not completely from one place, and a little from everywhere” 
– Jorge Drexler 

For almost 50 years NEC's department of Contemporary Improvisation has fostered a community of artists interested in studying music from different cultures and the interactions between them. Tonight, we present musical traditions from different corners of the world, drawing on their customs, histories, and stories, with the intention of either honoring these practices as they are or integrating them to create new languages. You may hear traditional works from our Mandé West African, Irish, and Persian music ensembles, along with new student and faculty pieces exploring tradition, and what it means to us as we move through our daily lives. Our purpose is not only to contemplate and celebrate tradition, but to consider its impact and role in our world today.       

Lautaro Mantilla produced the concert, in collaboration with Eden MacAdam-Somer and Anthony Coleman.

This performance is open to in-person audiences only. An edited, streamed version will be viewable on December 4 at 7:30 p.m. See event listing

  1. Ernesto Nazareth | Odeon (c. 1909), Brazilian Tango

    NEC Choro Ensemble
         Amir Milstein, coach

    Sarah Matsushima, voice, piano
    Amir Milstein, flute
    Nikita Manin, clarinet
    Catherine Byrne, violin
    G Korth-Rockwell, banjo, guitar, mandolin
    Mattias Kaufmann, accordion
    Miguel Landestoy, piano, keyboard
    Caleb Duval, double bass
    Joseph Seo, percussion


    Program note

    Odeon, named after a famous Rio de Janeiro theater, where celebrated pianist and composer Ernesto Nazareth played regularly, was originally a piano solo composition and represents the early stage of the Choro genre.
            European polkas and mazurkas, as well as the piano and other western instruments, were introduced in Brazil during the early 1800s by the Portuguese royal court. These popular dance tunes met the Afro-Brazilian Samba rhythms and Lundu dances, to create the Maxixe and Brazilian Tango, which later evolved into Choro – the musical essence of Brazil’s cultural diversity.                
    – Amir Milstein

  2. R. L. Burnside (arr. Roman Barten-Sherman) | Miss Maybelle

    Roman Barten-Sherman, guitar, voice

    Program note

    This tune comes out of the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues tradition, a rich and hypnotic style of blues music that is highly rhythmic and often functions in open tunings. In my arrangement of Miss Maybelle (originally from R. L. Burnside), I am incorporating phrases and ideas inspired by my time studying with Kenny Brown and Robert Befour as well as verses from Jimmy "Duck" Holmes.
    – Roman Barten-Sherman

  3. Olivia Wilkins-Becker | It was a Blip

    Lyra Montoya, flute
    Nikita Manin, clarinet

    Raef Sengupta, alto saxophone
    Miranda Agnew, trumpet
    Catherine Byrne, violin
    Olivia Wilkins-Becker, guitar
    Hannah Dunton, double bass
    James Paul Nadien, drums

    Program note

    I started writing this piece in May 2020 when it felt like the billboard of everyday life had lost its scaffolding, from supply chain shortages to overburdened healthcare infrastructure, to the absolute failure of the government to support the communities most vulnerable to complications and fatalities from the virus. The pandemic brought structural inequities into stark relief, and these inequities stem from the same traditions that I experienced growing up in a mostly white middle-class suburb: traditions that celebrate the idea of the soldier, the pioneer, and the worker as figures of American exceptionalism while erasing the ongoing histories of US imperialism, genocide, and exploitation.
            I want to belong as much as anyone else, but not at the expense that these traditions bring. This piece is an expression of the queasy feeling of watching the false reality that you grew up within deconstruct itself to near collapse, only to re-establish itself again as the “new normal.” Did it even really happen? It was a blip!

    – Olivia Wilkins-Becker

  4. Henry Purcell/Traditional Shetland | Fantasy in E Minor, Z. 741/Up Da Stroods

    Carson McHaney, Kaitlyn Knudsvig, violin
    Kathleen Wallace, viola
    Benjamin Roberts, cello


    Program note

    Purcell's Fantasy in E Minor, originally written for four viols, is number 4 of 7 fantasies hurriedly composed in the summer of 1680. The use of viol in the Western Classical tradition was falling out of fashion at the time as the instruments of the violin family came to the forefront.   This particular fantasy oscillates sonically between the Franco-Flemish motet style of an English chorale and lively dance steps popular in the French and Italian court of the time.  The members in our ensemble have a deep connection to the western classical tradition, having devoted a large part of our training and music making to the specific craft.  However, like the disappearance of the viol in four-part writing, we've all found ourselves abandoning the traditional mold of a classical string player and updating our ideas of virtuosity and total musicianship.  We've separately been on our own paths discovering different musical styles, mostly steeped in the fiddle tune tradition, before meeting this year and finding our shared interests. 
            We are passionate about the idea of dance music in its ability to create community, and we search for this as a unifying feature in the many genres we explore.  Community and tradition exist symbiotically, and as we transition into the Shetland traditional fiddle tune, Up Da Stroods, the dance step of the reel is clear in the rhythmic literacy and integral to the quality of the tune.  This element of stylistic groove is also key to the success of the Purcell Fantasy.  Up Da Stroods, sometimes called Up Da Stroods the Sailor Goes, translates to “up the ropes” depicting the rigging of a ship. Most of Shetland's tunes share this same trope of labor at sea, as that reflects the day to day lives of the Shetland people. The fiddle tune entwined in dance and the natural settings of the blue collar Shetland people is a classic example of Folk Art, and sets an excellent foil to the Purcell, which was and is certainly considered “high art.”  We hope to preserve and celebrate the traditions of both by marrying these disparate classes of art in this performance.             
    – Kathleen Wallace

  5. Traditional Chinese Folk Song/Bobby Timmons | Guessing Tune/Dat Dere

    Maggie Ruochen Zang, Yannick Changrong Yan, Maggie Yifan Yue, Edward Xiao Sun, voice
    Yoona Kim, ajaeng
    Anwei Wang, guzheng
    Mingchen Du, electric guitar
    Skyler Lim, piano
    Jiangcheng Guan, drums


    Program note

    This piece combines two songs from different cultures. The Chinese song “Guessing Tune” is a traditional folk song and nursery rhyme that originated from Yunnan, China, in which the central theme is children guessing everything around them. The song Dat Dere is a jazz standard by Bobby Timmons which kindly jokes about what kids are saying. We want to combine these two “kids” elements, making this piece unique. 
    – Maggie Ruochen Zang and Edward Xiao Sun

  6. Benito de Jesús | La Copa Rota

    Sarah Matsushima, voice
    Emily Mitchell, guitar
    , voice   
    Mattias Kaufmann, accordion


    Program note      

    While La Copa Rota is itself a traditional piece of music that has been covered by countless Latin-American artists, its plot is also a dark twist on one of the oldest, most universal traditions: the love story. La Copa Rota narrates deep heartbreak and anguish that leads our protagonist to insanity. It is also worth noting that the lovesick, irrational character is a man, rather than a woman, going against typical romantic tropes.                                                        
    – Sarah Matsushima

    Aturdido y abrumado, por la duda de los celos
    Se ve triste en la cantina a un bohemio ya sin fe
    Con los nervios destrozados y llorando sin remedio
    Como un loco atormentado por la ingrata que se fue

    Se ve siempre acompañado del mejor de los amigos
    Que le acompaña y le dice, ya esta bueno de licor
    Nada remedia con llanto, nada remedia con vino
    Al contrario la recuerda mucho más tu corazón

    Una noche como un loco mordió la copa de vino
    Y le hizo un cortante filo que su boca destrozó
    Y la sangre que brotaba, confundiose con el vino
    Y en la cantina este grito a todos estremeció

    No te apures compañero si me destrozo la boca
    No te apures que es que quiero con el filo de esta copa
    Borrar la huella de un beso traicionero que me dio
    Mozo, sírvame la copa rota, sírvame que me destroza esta fiebre de obsesión

    Mozo, sírvame la copa rota
    Quiero sangrar gota a gota

    El veneno de su amor

    Confused and overwhelmed by doubt and jealousy
    A hopeless bohemian seen at the bar
    with his nerves destroyed, crying helplessly
    Madly tormented by the ungrateful woman who left him

    He is always accompanied by his best friend
    who says to him, "You've had enough liquor"
    Nothing is remedied with crying or wine,
    on the contrary it will only remind your heart more of her

    One night like a madman he bit into the wine glass,
    it created a sharp edge which ripped his lips
    The blood gushed and mixed with the wine,
    And in the bar they shuddered to hear him cry,

    "Don’t worry friend, if I destroy my lips,
    don't worry, for with the edge of this glass I wish
    to erase the imprint of the treacherous kiss she gave me,
    Waiter, serve me the broken glass
    Serve me as this feverish obsession tears me apart

    Waiter, serve me the broken glass
    I want to bleed drop by drop the poison of her love"

  7. Hussein Alizadeh | Sobhgahi: In (mode/Dastgah) Chahargah

    NEC Persian Music Ensemble
         Nima Janmohammadi, coach

    Nikki Naghavi, violin
    Yoona Kim, ajaeng
    Francesca Ter-Berg, cello
    Roman Barten-Sherman, banjo
    Nadav Friedman, percussion


    Program note

    There is a saying in Farsi that “Someone tells you the secret but does not reveal it.” A true secret never reveals itself; it transforms, disappears and appears again and again. It is the art of alchemists, poets, and artists to touch the mysteries in the liminal moments of their transition. A melody that has passed through the breathing of thousands of people in centuries is a mystery, a DNA that contains so much information. It is nuanced in every note, gesture, intonation, sound envelope, and in its many ways of recurrence. To play it, one must traverse boundaries of time, to touch the breathing of someone singing it in the past or future.  Tradition survives in its disappearance, when it abandons its authenticity in order to touch a heart.
            My students have spent months learning the piece you hear tonight, all by ear. At times we had to spend hours playing only one phrase of approximately six seconds, almost like building a sculpture, looking at its shadow, echo, resonance, to figure out how it emerges and fades, and to have a physical sense of the weight of every note it contains. They learned it with so much reverence and in the most elegant way. May the light of angel of sound shine upon their hearts in infinite moments of enchantment.                                                                       
    Nima Janmohammadi

  8. Traditional American | Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase

    G Korth-Rockwell, banjo
    Patrick M'Gonigle, fiddle
    Eden MacAdam-Somer, dancer


    Program note

    This piece comes from the American old-time fiddle tradition, a sound that would be heard in various formations across the Appalachians.                             
    G Korth-Rockwell

  9. Cumbia House Band | Cumbia Colombiana

    Homage to José Barros, Lucho Bermúdez, and Los Pirañas

    Cumbia House Band
         Lautaro Mantilla, director

    Nikita Manin, clarinet
    Daniel Hirsch, trumpet
    Catherine Byne, violin
    Miguel Landestoy, piano
    Rihards Kolmanis, Olivia Wilkins-Becker, guitar
    Anna Abondolo, double bass
    James Paul Nadien, drums


    Program note

    Cumbia has been adopted as a common language for the whole continent and, as a folk music tradition, has been in constant flux since the beginning. In the last 15 years, a vibrant scene in South America has seamlessly taken tropical music, specifically Cumbia, to the 21st century by filtering it with an experimental and innovative approach to find a place where tradition and innovation meet. This “tropicalismo supremo”or “tropicanibalismo” is set to continue the search for the present and future sound of Cumbia, and it doesn’t seem to stop being in motion. The piece we are playing tonight presents our take on this search.    
    Lautaro Mantilla

  10. Adrian Chabla | Create

    Adrian Chabla, piano, voice
    Jahnvi Bela Madan, clarinet
    Isaac Dubow, trumpet
    Kabir Adhiya-Kumar, drums, sample pad
    Sam Reiss, double bass


    Program note

    “I insist on my right to be multiple.
    I insist on my right to be multiple.

    Even more so, I insist upon
    The Recognition of my inherent multiplicity”     
    -       Taiye Selasi

    To create 1 is to create other.
    the borders of a finite creation, where things begin & end
    they aren't puzzle pieces, they
    overlap, split off, conjoin, leave space between each other

    i find that in most spaces i
    am in, i don't really land anywhere.
    i am oscillitory
    & when
    u trace these
    paths of motion, pendulous, between 1 & another
    u carve into them, they become deeper

    i think they become bigger than you.

    over time u imprint
    a canyon
    it has a gravity &
    pulls other things in.

    this is an homage to
    the loved ones, people & places, that i have met within myself.
    (& within them too)
    & the pendulums we swing from
    & all of the beautiful canyons we create

     dedicated to vivian jess ean mac noga mati & lotem
    & queens nyc
    thank u <3

    *Special thank u to everyone in their compositional & improvisation genius, we created dis together y'all <3 thank u for bein u

    – Adrian Chabla

  11. Traditional Latvian | Visi Ceļi Guņiem Pilni

    (often used in war or as a gathering song for communities in Latvia)

    NEC Survivors Breakfast
         Anthony Coleman, coach, vocals

    Lyra Montoya, clarinet, bass clarinet, voice
    Yoona Kim, ajaeng, voice
    Francesca Ter-Berg, jaw harp, voice
    Rihards Kolmanis, guitar, voice
    Olivia Wilkins-Becker, guitar, voice
    Henry Wilson, percussion, voice
    Ari Chais, piano, voice
    Brooks Clarke, electric bass, voice
    Hannah Dunton, double bass, voice
    James Paul Nadien, drums, voice

    CI Chorus
    Stuart Ryerse
    Solomon Caldwell
    Mingchen Du
    Yannick Changrong Yan
    Henry Wilson
    G Korth-Rockwell
    Adrian Chabla
    Mattias Kaufmann
    Emily Mitchell


    Visi ceļi guņiem pilni
    Visi ceļi guņiem pilni

    Visi ceļi atslēgām
    Visi ceļi atslēgām

    Jāš būt iesi visam cauri
    Jāš būt iesi visam cauri
    Ar dieviņa palīdzīb
    Ar dieviņa palīdzīb

    – Rihards Kolmanis


A detail of NEC's Jordan Hall
Tonight, in this streamed concert—the full version of which took place in Jordan Hall for in-person audiences on Monday, November 15—we present musical traditions from different corners of the world, drawing on their customs, histories, and stories.