The goal in planning the Electric Earth Concerts season for founders Jonathan Bagg and Laura Gilbert is to be all-inclusive in the music offerings of each series. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, their goal is to be all-inclusive in how those offerings are delivered to audiences.
When a concert scheduled for late March with accordion player Ključo and vocalist Jelena Milušić had to be removed from the line-up because the artists’ flight from Sarajevo was cancelled (at the start of the worldwide pandemic), Bagg and Gilbert had to think fast.
“They made this amazing video, ‘Love Songs from Around the World,’ and they created this beautiful, romantic setting with lit candles,” said Gilbert of the virtual concert they posted on the Electric Earth website.
Bagg and Gilbert commissioned violin player Gabriela Diaz to perform a concert of duos last month, which was also recorded and posted on the Electric Earth site’s new media page.
“We got to see a side you don’t often see,” Bagg said. “She talked about herself as a musician and the pieces she was playing.”
While they knew they would most likely have to cancel some of their concert season, they owed it to these musicians on the schedule of live concerts to continue different ways of presenting the music.
“The audiences knows and loves these musicians, and the musicians need the work,” Bagg said. “We thought, for everyone’s sake, let’s keep it going.”
While virtual events are not ticketed, patrons can support musicians by donating via the Electric Earth page. Co-founders Bagg and Gilbert named their series Electric Earth, according to Gilbert’s statement on their website, in honor of Beethoven. “He believed that ideas of mysterious and divine origin come to fruition when given voice in the electric language of music,” Gilbert wrote. “Our name honors his idea that music is fertile ground for the spirit, and expresses our desire to make music in an environment alive and open to creative discovery.”
Bagg and Gilbert, former artistic directors of the Monadnock Music concert series, left that organization to start their own series in early 2012. Their idea was to host concerts year-round so the region would have off-season options.
Bagg teaches viola at Duke University in North Carolina and is a member of the Ciompi String Quartet. Gilbert, a New York-based flutist, is a chamber musician, soloist and founder of Aureole, a flute, viola and harp trio.
Being all-inclusive in planning the Electric Earth series is important, Bagg explained, because music doesn’t discriminate.
“When we hear a wonderful concert by a folk group, it stimulates the same parts of our brain a great string quartet performance does,” he said. “When you’re open to what makes a great performance – you should be able to enjoy jazz, folk, cabaret – it’s all part of one big canvas of music making.”
Electric Earth isn’t only a music series – music’s connection to literature, dance and visual art are often explored.
Coming up in the middle of the month will be a recorded performance posted on the website by The Tesla Quartet.
“They are in the process of making a socially-distant collaborative concert,” Gilbert said. “They’re very adventurous.”
The next concert in the 2020 series, on June 28, is also virtual. Titled “A Bird Came Down the Walk,” the program, performed by Bagg and Gilbert, is nature-inspired, with music by Bohuslav Martinu, Lior Navok, Toru Takemitsu, Ethel Smyth and guest pianist, Mimi Solomon. The rest of the concert series this summer is in wait-and-see mode as to whether they will be performed virtually or live – this will depend on the governor’s mandates for large gatherings.
A concert titled “Spiritual Voices” is on-schedule for July 25. The program includes Olly Wilson’s “A City Called Heaven” for large ensemble, Ben Johnston’s classic “Amazing Grace” quartet, a setting of spirituals by Mark Kuss, and a work by Anthony Kelly.
The Aug. 15 concert, “Ladies on the Move,” follows the theme, “Changing the Conversation: how the interplay of gender, race, politics and aesthetics has helped to shape the language of American music.”
Four women, two of them African- American, cover a huge stylistic range despite all being born prior to 1920, when the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote. Music of Amy Beach, Marion Bauer, Undine Smith Moore and Margaret Bonds will be performed.
“They are celebrations of the 100-year anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment,” Bagg said. “The concerts highlight women and women of color and composers of color.”
Their plan is to host three more next season in anticipation of a grant award for the four-concert series.
The rest of the line-up includes a collaboration celebrating Beethoven’s anniversary featuring his Septet, Op. 20; a performance of works for percussion and cello by “Maverick” composers; a concert of Bach solo works for violin by violin virtuoso David McCarroll; a performance of Beethoven’s Opus, 1 a set of piano trios on period instruments; and a concert by Bagg’s Ciompi Quartet along with his colleagues at Duke University performing French romantic masterworks.
“It’s a different way of dealing [with the series,” Bagg said. “We didn’t cancel the whole season – we don’t need to. We’re taking it month by month. If the situation continues, some may be comfortable coming to concerts, but we will continue to film them and broadcast them later.”
This means having to budget responsibly and respond quickly, and maintain good relationships with colleagues.
“It’s a brave new world,” Gilbert said. “I always like to say Electric Earth Concerts is a Porsche – small and agile. We can make sharp turns and adjust.”
Local videographer, David Tuebner, has recorded performances and will do so going forward. According to Gilbert, “It forces you to document them in a permanent way and have better archives.”
Bagg said the challenge for performing artists and all nonprofits is that they will only sustain support from the community while events are on hold with the expectation that things will resume to normal. In the meantime, patrons need that connection. Now, Zoom meetings with the audience are in the planning stages.
“They can ask questions and we’ll talk about how we’ve navigated the last three months,” Bagg said. “Conversations about music engage people and create that feeling of a reception after the concert. We want to create that feeling in our videos.”
For the most current information on the series, visit electricearthconcerts.org.