Liesl and John Hunnemann (both Berg grads,) Mark and Bob Applebaum, Joan and Doug
Well, it took about 17 years of dreaming, but it finally happened. Heidelberg University welcomed Dr. Mark Applebaum, the "Mad Scientist" of Music to its campus on March 23-24, 2017, as part of our continuing New Music program. For two wonderful days, Mark and I could be colleagues again. What a gift for Joan and I, who remember him and his wife Joan so fondly from our days in Mississippi. And what a gift to our students, who were encouraged to examine music and artistic expression using entirely different lenses (like Mark's, of course, which change color as the day progresses......)
Our paths first crossed in the mid-90s, when as a faculty member at Mississippi State, I was participating on a search committee to bring a second composer/theorist to our faculty. I told my colleagues to ignore all of the vitas that provided backgrounds similar to mine; we had to find someone completely different in musical interests and aesthetic viewpoints. With Mark, we exceeded beyond our wildest imaginations! Dr. Applebaum arrived on our campus and had an immediate impact; students flocked to his wonderful world where anything could be questioned, changed, or discarded. This wasn't anarchy, but a carefully considered philosophy, wrapped up in a non-threatening teaching style that made maximum use of humor and absurdity. An Applebaum premiere was not to be missed, and we were always there. For three years I worked with this man, and loved every minute of it.
We left MSU at the same time in the spring of 2000; Mark went to Stanford as a composer, while I came to Heidelberg as an administrator. Our traditional New Music Festival never seemed to be the right vehicle for someone of Mark's abilities. So we brought him in under the auspices of a guest composer residency. True, it was only two days, but in that time, Mark gave two concerts, three lectures, attending several rehearsals and hung out with the gang. This is what I really wanted, the opportunity for our students to get to know a creative artist in a less superficial manner.
I invited Mark's dad, Bob Applebaum to come along; he and Mark gave a killer jazz concert on Thursday evening on our two Steinway D pianos. The program was a great success and set the stage for Mark's composer program the following evening.
This recital featured over 20 Heidelberg students and faculty, a fact that made me most proud. Three of our piano majors performed Mark's Meditation for piano six hands, a very quiet, and gentle prelude that involved various degrees of performer choice. These brave souls started the evening's program and did a terrific job.
Score excerpt: The Metaphysics of Notation, by Mark Applebaum
There percussionists, including faculty member Scott Kretzer, and 14 theater students, under the guidance of theater director Stephen Svoboda presented three different interpretations of Mark's famous piece, The Metaphysics of Notation. For those who haven't seen the score: be prepared for a series of beautiful and sometimes provocative images with absolutely no performance instructions. As Mark likes to say: I am writing a piece of music with no sounds in my head......." The percussion trio performed their rendition first. The theater troupe was next (Stephen's advanced acting class). For a finale, both groups presented their performances at the same time. And yes, it worked!
The rest of the evening presented various examples of Marks' work in the electronic medium. This has always been a genre that has fascinated me on the surface, but often disappointed me in the concert hall. Mark avoids this trap, as always, but re-inventing the genre. Do you like Mozart? Hear him all anew, as presented by 18 pianos (some altered) all performed and recorded by the guy from Stanford. Do you often have conversations with yourself? Only Mark would do this in eight-tracks (well, only four in Heidelberg, due to budget constraints, but it still worked!)
I have already told students that there is no way to top this program next year. Just expect something different. I hated taking Mark and Bob back to the Detroit airport on Saturday afternoon, but I will always be grateful for the two days when Mark came to town and turned the School of Music upside down. They loved it, as I knew they would.