Local conductor debuts performances composed just for Zoom: ‘Music Outside the Box’


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Conductor Evan Meccarello, who has a laundry list of conducting gigs — including Music Director, Binghamton Community Orchestra, Music Director, Hochstein Alumni Orchestra, Conductor, Irondequoit Community Orchestra — unveiled a new series of pieces that were recorded virtually, by performers from most of his ensembles.

Some of the performances also featured work with extended techniques from the Quince Ensemble.

But unlike many other virtual recording projects that are recorded separately and edited together, these performances featured compositions that were especially composed for performing over a Zoom video conference call.

They are:

  • Longing from afar (Dai Fujikura)
  • Marejada (Angélica Negrón)
  • Time Keeps Movin’ (Xenia St. Charles Gilbert)

But it does beg the question… Why does a performance need to specially composed for a performance/recording over Zoom?

“Anyone who’s tried to sing happy birthday to someone on Zoom during the pandemic of the past year understands that there is a tremendous amount of lag between voices instrument sounds,” Meccarello said, naturally, over a Zoom call.

This lag makes playing more traditional pieces impossible, since they rely on performers playing in sync with each other. But musically, each piece gets around this “asynchronicity” differently.

“Fujikura wrote (a piece) that really uses the delays of Zoom in a large group to create contemporary textures and, effects that are almost electronic sounding,” Meccarello said.

Compare that with Negrón that uses the same time delays to create the ocean’s undulations of her homeland of Puerto Rico, and Gilbert’s piece, which uses a timepiece.

“We screen-share a clock on Zoom that counts down, and the musicians know at certain times they’re going to play certain things,” he said. “That piece is really beautifully crafted because everyone is kind of playing the same thing, but the delay causes a refraction and reflection on that.’

To further facilitate the recording process, musicians also recorded their performances on their phones. The audio from those devices was mixed later, and was synced with the original performance.

“This allows us to have a much higher quality sound that gets mixed after the fact,” Meccarello said. “So you’re hearing a live performance, but the tracks from that live performance are totally clean and clear of any Zoom audio problems while they’re performing.”

Meccarello says that even though the pandemic may be mostly in the rearview window, this kind of project still has it’s merits.

“This is a way of music making that has been going on for at least the last 50 to 70 years,” he said, while acknowledging that advances in technology over that time — as well as a widespread acceptance of it during the “work from home” era — facilitated this process. “And so as far as going forward, I could see this pointing of future pointing a path onward to possible collaborations that are international, for example, separated by great distance.”

He also says that it’s rewarding for him and the students. He describes it as broadening his students artistic literacy, much in the same way that learning a new genre would: the limits of working with the lag of Zoom may provide quite a lot of challenges, but also new creative opportunities.

“This really speaks to the bravery of the participants and the courage to go out there and try something completely unusual and new,” he said. “(They) had to really step outside of their comfort zone to try this kind of music making.”

But all the trouble was worth it. Meccarello not only has these three documented pieces of work, he himself might have a future gig.

“Although I can’t make an official announcement yet, there is a European orchestra that has reached out to me to attempt to do this project,” he said, barely suppressing a preening grin.

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