Jason Calloway for FETA Foundation Acoustica 21


Brief excerpt from Jason Calloway's performance at Howard Golan Gallery.

You know what you are in for a wild ride when the cello soloist prepares the audience by saying he hopes he won't need resuscitation after performing the second piece on the program. He didn't, but the warning proved apt. Jason Calloway, a young cellist, Juilliard-trained, with a stellar resume that includes performances on numerous world-class stages and festivals, is unafraid of high-wire challenges. A Saturday evening performance at Howard Golan Gallery in Wynwood was programmed to explore the relationship between the cello and the human voice – literally and metaphorically. Everlastingly Loose and Responsive: A study in motion (2010) by composer Anne Hege, was that “dangerous” second piece. It demands simultaneous singing and playing the instrument, interspersed with whistling!

As Calloway later remarked, “For me, it's a personal challenge at a technical level and a piece that people seem to enjoy and that provides a contrast with what came before and what followed. The cello part is elementary at best, but it's amazingly difficult to play in tune on the cello and to sing in tune simultaneously and to sing a vocal part whose range encompasses from baritone to low soprano.”

The tempo was not relentlessly breathless, but the musician’s extreme concentration and physical strain were evident, as the music created sonic ambiguities that provoked questions about the very act of listening of identifying sounds – aside from their organization as music.

For decades, many classical composers have eschewed the folk, popular and romantic standards of harmonic and melodic beauty, choosing alternative systems of arranging sounds – whether acoustic, electronically generated or sampled. Since 2011, composer and music presenter, Juraj Kosj, founder of the Foundation of Emerging Technologies and Arts (FETA) has presented a bounty of performance series in Miami, using varied venues, such as the Golen Gallery, Sweat Records, Inkub8, The Bridge video training center and others.

Calloway's concert was part of Acoustica 21’s second season. The musician’s program goal was not to catalog or demonstrate those academic “isms” of compositional style. "My main and only objective, after what I thought was a sensible theme (voice and cello), was to construct a program that would provide variety." In that, he certainly succeeded.

Anne Hege’s Everlastingly Loose and Responsive: a study in motion from 2010, was the second piece on the program and posed the greatest risk of requiring “medical intervention” for Calloway. Its juxtapositions of voice and instrument pushed the musician to his limits, particularly, as he complained, he is not endowed with perfect pitch, but required to strike widely dispersed notes (sometimes sung; sometimes whistled) with no harmonic or melodic cues. The sung and whistled lines were sometimes congruent with and sometimes disturbingly a-synchronous with the cello’s melodic lines. 

Both in the Hege composition and in works by Sculthorpe, Berio, Levy and others, the music mixed languid and frenzied tempo, demanding rapid jumps between extremes of the fingerboard, contorted chord fingerings, long glissandos, interspersed with raucous scrubbing, slapping, note bending, muffling and simultaneous plucking and bowing.   

In keeping with the eductional goals of presenter Juraj Koijs, (founder of the Foundation of the Foundation for Emerging Technologies and Arts), Calloway introduced each piece with valuable thematic and technical remarks.  Not everyone knows their spectralists from their serialists – or what solfege vocal exercises are for.

Central to the musical experience was the interaction between the “voice” of the cello and the literal voice of the musician. Calloway, while not gifted with perfect pitch, has rigorously trained (using the solfege and other voice exercise programs) to develop the ability to hit widely diverse pitches that are not connected by traditional

For an adventurous musical program, rich in sharp juxtapositions, it seemed oddly appropriate that the performer, Jason Calloway, was flanked by lurid pulp fiction cover paintings of galloping horses, gunslinging cowgirls, and a house afire. The setting was the Howard Golan Gallery in Winwood, where the proprietor and the music series presenter, Juraj Kojs, have a long-standing collaboration.

The intimacy of the setting more than compensated for a a.c. hum, as a capacity audience of 50 or so enjoyed the rich, unamplified cello sound and raw vocalization of the artist. Calloway introduced each selection with informed, but spontaneous commentary. Callaway is a young, but already celebrated musician used to extensive touring and performance in international festivals and large concert halls. He too, clearly enjoyed the close interaction with his audience.

The program selections encompassed late 20th as well as 21st century compositions by six musicians of strong standing in the new music universe, but certainly not household names on the radio dial or among popular concert listings. Calloway is Juilliard trained and who has performed on important stages internationally (Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, Skirball Center, the Lucerne and Spoleto and  Darmstadt festivals among other honors).

At least in Miami, it makes perfect sense – or at least a stimulating counterpoint.