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  • When Shaw moved to New York in the late aughts,

     Japo_Japo updated 10 months, 2 weeks ago 1 Member · 1 Post
  • Japo_Japo

    October 1, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    contemporary classical music was also squirming within its boundaries. Composers like Judd Greenstein, Nico Muhly and Missy Mazzoli were toying with the tenets of pop, and the oft-debated term “indie classical” arose to signal music that was harmonic and effervescent — and, market-wise, interested in wider audiences than New York Philharmonic season ticket holders. The moment had any number of precedents: the wide footprint of mid-century minimalists like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, or Bang on a Can, the groundbreaking collective started in the late ’80s by Julia Wolfe, David Lang and Michael Gordon, which redefined how to present more tonal, playful music by putting on casual and provocative concerts, acting more like a band than a chamber group.

    The music bubbling up in the late 2000s wasn’t the first to pivot from the dissonant serialism of Pierre Boulez and Milton Babbitt, still powerful influences in composition schools. But the artists who shone were newly adept at twisting how listeners heard their work, and how marketing companies categorized it. New collectives like yMusic and the NOW Ensemble collaborated with The National and Sufjan Stevens. Composers were publicized as exciting, singular figures rather than the fruits of academic institutions, and new labels, like New Amsterdam Records, gave them homes. In 2007, the New Yorker classical critic Alex Ross wrote that New Amsterdam’s “scene,” as many saw it, had “an appealing openness about it, an optimistic spirit.” He called it “music beyond ideology.”

    The scene’s attitude aligned with Shaw’s. “I always thought of it as the edges getting wider and the middles getting smaller,” she says. “I was just trying to say yes and play all sorts of stuff.” Her compositional instincts, still nascent, gained muscle by playing almost exclusively new music, like learning how to paint by living in a painter’s studio. Still, growth brings growing pains, and the scene could be “a mixture of supportive and snarky,” leaving room for familiar social hierarchies to take root. “I hate the snark,” Shaw says. “Life is too short for that.”

    On an afternoon in 2009, Shaw made her way to an apartment on the Upper West Side to audition for a new vocal group. Brad Wells, a singer and composer who had peeled off from an operatic trajectory, wanted to create a group that could disrupt the centuries-old traditions that determined the forceful tone of classical singing. Wells didn’t have members yet, but he had a name: Roomful of Teeth.

    “I had been auditioning people for a couple of months and hadn’t found any singers that did what I was looking for,” Wells says. “Caroline was the first.” After Shaw finished her audition and left — she sang a plainchant and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” by Otis Redding — Wells turned to his friend, whose apartment they were using, and said, “She’s it.” The friend was surprised. “Caroline doesn’t have that larger, developed classical solo voice,” Wells says. (Hers, in the alto range, is round and unforced, like the tone of a boys’ choir.) “But what I heard was boatloads of musicality.”

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