Akropolis Reed Quintet debuts its latest web series with a world premiere
The local ensemble Akropolis Reed Quintet made waves nationally in 2014 when the group won the prestigious Fischoff Gold Medal, the first group of its kind to win the award. Tim Gocklin (oboe), Kari Landry (clarinet), Matt Landry (saxophone), Andrew Koeppe (bass clarinet), and Ryan Reynolds (bassoon) founded Akropolis at the University of Michigan in 2009. The reed quintet has been extremely prolific from the start, including releasing albums, streaming concerts online, and conducting educational programs locally, nationally, and internationally (when I reached out to the group, they were in Abu Dhabi).
On Wednesday, Sept. 27, Akropolis will relaunch its web series on akropolisquintet.com and youtube.com/akropolis5tet: "In 2011, we created our YouTube Web Premiere Series as a platform to showcase new works for reed quintet online, around the world," the group wrote on the Facebook event page for its latest, which will feature a live studio recording of Gregory Wanamaker's new arrangement of "Elegy" from his Duo Sonata written specifically for Akropolis. "This series has over 31,000 views, 522 subscribers, and features 13 online premieres, 9 of which are from American composers!"
I caught up with ensemble member saxophonist Matt Landry to chat about the group’s latest album, The Space Between Us (“pure gold” according to the San Francisco Chronicle), classical music and popular culture, and what’s next for the group.
Q: One of the ways you describe what you do is taking your audience on "extraordinary musical adventures." You released your third album, The Space Between Us, in March 2017. How is the idea of musical adventure reflected in this album?
A: We try to take people on both thematic and auditory adventures whenever they hear our music. Meaning, they should always be experiencing novel colors and sounds with the way we play our instruments (this has always been a calling card of Akropolis' and a staple of the reed quintet), but they should also be experiencing a narrative in which the music represents something about life, too. In The Space Between Us, just taken musically, the sounds are, like all our albums (which contain 17 new reed quintet works), fresh, original, and unmistakable. At the same time, the CD stems from the shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City in the summer of 2014, when a composer on the CD, John Steinmetz, started writing a piece for us called "Sorrow and Celebration." The CD expresses the spaces (both obvious and overlooked) between people in our society, and it does this with adventurous sounds, too.
Q: In 2014, Akropolis was the first ever reed quintet to win the Fischoff Gold Medal. Did winning this award change anything about how you approach your music?
A: Definitely. It gave us confidence. If America's most respected chamber music competition appreciated our unknown music, then certainly the public would as well. It set a new bar for us, too, showing us what level of technical execution we were capable of. It galvanized the ensemble and taught us about the importance of artistic integrity. Ultimately, a musical career is only as long as the artist feels he or she is being represented accurately and is being true to themselves. Winning the Fischoff Gold Medal playing our music helped us learn what that feeling was all about.
Q: You've been hosting web premieres of some of your works. People can tune in live and participate via social media on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Have you connected with reed music fans all around the world through this program as you have hoped?
A: Absolutely. Our recent web premiere, "Splinter" by Marc Mellits, has 8,000 views on YouTube and almost 10,000 on Facebook. That's a lot for a piece of contemporary reed music. Reed players find the music and want to buy it, ask questions, and all that. But because FB and YT are a window to any and all communities, many people find our music this way that would never otherwise listen. We try to harness these moments and make new fans for us, and for the kind of music we play.
Q: Educational initiatives are a core part of what you do. Why do you think that educational programs are the strongest way to foster appreciation, access, and the growth of classical music? What's your take on the usual lament that classical music is fading from popular culture?
A: Second question first: classical music, to us, is far from fading. It's simply being consumed differently, including by Akropolis members themselves! Moreover, it's impossible that classical music could ever disappear, and "fading" implies that it's heading in that direction. With the way music (and everything) is consumed, it's simply up to classical musicians to find audiences. We performed at four office spaces in downtown Detroit for the most random and wide array of average workers we could find. We catered lunch to their office and played music. They loved it.
Classical music has an access issue, which can be addressed. The content will always be moving. We educate (pre-K through college) because students need to see themselves in the arts in order to understand their importance. We're still pretty young and we relate to students of all ages. They know we want to be in front of them and that we enjoy it. So, they see that arts are not just for their parents and rich people. That's critical.
Q: What's next for Akropolis in the coming year?
A: We're performing in Colorado, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Washington, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, and more. We're premiering a few works, judging the massive Barlow Prize for Music, conducting our yearly 5Sounds festival in Detroit next May, and doing tons of educational performances and visiting business of music courses at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan music schools. Folks can keep up via our e-newsletter.
Anna Prushinskaya is a writer in Ann Arbor. Her collection of essays, A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother, is forthcoming from MG Press in fall 2017.