By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Bearthoven is not what it seems.
First of all, there are no bears.
Second, though the name evokes that of a classical composer immortalized in busts that decorate piano teachers’ studios, the trio is not dedicated to playing centuries-old, or even decades-old, music.
Third, though the instrumentation, piano, bass and percussion, may call to mind the classic jazz piano trio, this is not a jazz group. The pianist allows he’s not much of a jazz player.
Bearthoven is a trio ready to upend expectations, even those it sets for itself.
The Brooklyn based trio of Karl Larson, piano, Pat Swoboda, bass, and Matt Evans, percussion, will perform a “Music at the Forefront” concert Monday at 8 p.m. at the ClaZel in downtown Bowling Green. The free concert is sponsored by the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music at Bowling Green State University.
“Our music is a weird split between very loud and very soft. We have this strange dichotomy of pieces,” Larson said in a recent telephone interview. Some work is akin to rock ‘n’ roll. Other pieces are minimalist, even ethereal.
Larson, who received his doctorate in contemporary music from BGSU in 2012, said the members all met through the Bang On A Can Summer Institute in North Adams, Massachusetts. Though they played in different ensembles together, the trio itself first performed in December, 2013.
All three live on the same corner in Brooklyn, New York.
“We knew we wanted to do this thing, and we knew there weren’t pieces that existed for this instrumentation. So we put the word out,” he said.
Since they were all leaving school at the same time “we knew a lot of composers.” Bearthoven offered them to chance to write what they wanted. In exchange they would get a good performance. For student composers, this would a fair barter. Usually on campus when new pieces get played, Larson said, it’s by a pick-up ensemble with minimal rehearsal time. With Bearthoven “they know we would really invest in the performance.”
The first piece they received, Brooks Frederickson’s “Undertoad,” will be on Monday’s program. They will also play Ken Thomson’s “Grizzly” and one piece that predated the formation of the group, Nik Bärtsch’s “Modul 26,” composed in 2004– early music for the trio. Larson called the piece, the only one in their repertoire not commissioned by Bearthoven, “minimalist jazz” full of puzzle pieces, meter tricks and time tricks. “You never really know where you are rhythmically as a listener.”
The trio landed some high profile gigs at the 2014 Bang On The Can Marathon and the 2015 MATA Festival. Bearthoven started getting grants to enable them to pay composers they commissioned. That’s important, Larson said. “We want to be paid so it’s important to pay composers, too.”
The trio’s current Ohio swing is tied to pieces commissioned by the Johnstone Fund for New Music. Bearthoven gave a premier performance of the pieces Wednesday at a CNX concert in Columbus, and then heads to Otterbein College to take part in a reading session of student composers’ works.
Those new pieces are: Adrian Knight, “The Ringing World,” Fjola Evans’ “Shoaling,” and a yet to be titled work by Charlie Wilmoth.
Tours and college visits are essential to financial viability. “That’s what’s really lucrative,” Larson said. “Making a decent amount of money performing has to do with leaving Brooklyn.” He plays in a number of projects including a duo with cellist Ashley Bathgate.
“It does help to be here [Brooklyn],” Larson said. The borough is like a new music “think tank.”
“You develop your projects here, then take them around.”
Local shows, he explained, are likely to involve playing for the door with musicians ending up with just enough money to pay for beer.
Larson also teaches piano to children through Brooklyn Conservatory.
The pianist is happy to be returning to Bowling Green and to showcase what he’s been up to in the past few years. He hasn’t seen some of his teachers since he left campus. Having Bearthoven booked for a Music From The Forefront concert is “validating.”
The Wisconsin native came to BGSU to get his masters in piano performance after graduating from Luther College, a liberal arts college in Iowa.
He came to BGSU “because I knew I wanted to do contemporary music. But I really didn’t even know what I was talking about until spending that much time there and trying to get into modern music more academically and more seriously,” he said.
“Originally I thought my trajectory was to go teach,” he said. He couldn’t envision moving to New York when he started his doctoral work. He became “a completely different musician and performer because of that.”
By DAVID DUPONT