Playground Ensemble Makes Music Come Alive at the Biennial

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The Biennial of the Americas has already given Denver a marching band continuously walking across the street, Spanish karaoke and orchestral dinosaur calls. Tomorrow members of the Playground Ensemble will team up with young composers to present New Music NOW!
The Playground Ensemble is a group of classical musicians who specialize in music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Their dedication to showing young people that classical music is vibrant, adventurous and relevant to the world they live in fits well with the Biennial’s NOW! theme.

“We already do a lot of youth outreach to show young people that music of the 20th and 21st century doesn’t have to be a museum piece,” says Conrad Kehn, founding director of the Playground Ensemble. “Using a number of Biennial themes, we decided to team up with young composers from around the country to demonstrate that music is a living art form.”

The Ensemble will use its common “postcard” approach for the Biennial project, which involves one composer preparing a piece of music and then sending it to another musician, who will compose a response. For this show, four composers from the Playground Ensemble will respond to four original compositions from four musicians from different parts of the country.

“Angelica Negron is a Puerto Rican-born composer living in New York and she chose one of her students for the young composer role,” Kehn says. “Her student is Mondriana Villegas, she’s ten years old and has been composing music for two years now.”

Other composers include Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, who worked with Savannah Irwin, both of Oklahoma and citizens of the Chickasaw Nation; Denver’s Brian Elbert composed with Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy’s Katina Jakel. Kehn composed with a student from Edwards, Colorado.  “I paired myself with a young lady by the name of Lara Melgarejo, and whose parents are from Argentina. We all had our four student composers write their pieces first and all mentors wrote musical responses based on themes that were presented in the Biennial.”

Kehn composed his piece, which will close out the performance, based on riots and civil unrest in the Americas. After researching the subject, he decided to add a level of audience participation. “I took audio from protest videos and built audio interludes into my piece,” Kehn says. “In some of the videos I watched people who came out of their homes and were yelling and beating on pots and pans. I’m going to ask the audience to participate in a similar act.”

The audience participation portion is referred to as “cacerolazo,” a popular protest in Spanish-speaking countries where groups do, in fact, bang on pots and pans. The music he has chosen to run alongside his composition can be heard here

The Playground Ensemble’s New Music NOW! performance starts at 4:15 p.m. Saturday, July 18, at the Biennial Pavilion, 1550 Wewatta Street. For more information about the composers or the Playground Ensemble, click here

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