What’s in a name? Asked about the origin of their unlikely yet allusive monicker, the members of new-music chamber trio Bearthoven – pianist Karl Larson, bass Pat Swoboda, and percussionist Matt Evans refer to both a particular time and place and a general frame of mind. “We thought of the name on a summer walk through the woods in North Adams, MA.,” Larson explains in a press statement. “There had been some cubs spotted in the area, so bears were on our minds. And Beethoven, was he on our minds? Apparently, yes – although if you’re a classical musician, Beethoven is probably always on your mind, even when you think he’s not.”
Formed in 2013, Bearthoven has built up an estimable repertoire of fresh pieces for an instrumentation that’s canonical among jazz circles, but uncommon within the concert-music world. Trios, the group’s debut CD on Cantaloupe Music, the Bang on a Can house label, includes music by Brooks Frederickson, Anthony Vine, Ken Thomson, Fjóla Evans, Brendon Randall-Myers, and Adrian Knight.
The album is due May 5 in CD and download formats – with a limited-edition cassette version also in the works, naturally – and you can stream Vine’s From a Forest of Standing Mirrors on the trio’s Bandcamp page. But to celebrate Bearthoven’s anticipatory record-release show at Le Poisson Rouge on April 18, Cantaloupe Music has graciously allowed us to share another piece, Evans’s Shoaling, in advance: right here, right now.
“When Pat first told me he was starting a group with Matt and Karl I remember being really excited about the low-end bassy potential of that ensemble,” Fjóla Evans of Bearthoven. “The second thought I had was that they should definitely name themselves ‘Pat ‘n’ Matt – featuring… KARRRL!’ But for some reason they did not accept my suggestion.”
Evans, a Canadian/Icelandic composer and cellist presently studying with Martin Bresnick and Christopher Theofanidis at Yale University, has drawn inspiration from the behaviors of natural phenomena. Of Shoaling, she writes:
When a group of fish is swimming together as a whole, but still following their individual paths, they are shoaling. Shoaling also refers to the physical phenomenon where a wave grows in height as it hits shallow water. Both of these events describe large groups undulating as a whole, but with independent components. In Shoaling, I wanted the three instruments to sound like they were moving together in multiplying waves, while still remaining separate.
Via email, each member of Bearthoven offered thoughts on Evans’s piece:
Pat Swoboda For me, Shoaling is a composition of experience, anxiety, change. Shoaling is knowing something is going to happen, only for the experience to be completely different that the scenario you ran in your head, the one you prepared for. Moments pass with pairs of instruments indulging in a calm beauty, only for a third instrument to disrupt and recontextualize – rolled sextuplets suddenly met with cutting septuplets, legato piano lines met with ponticello tremolo in the bass. Shoaling is the process of accepting that only so many things can be controlled, that actors move around us chaotically. It is about allowing that chaos to be simultaneously agitating and comforting, uneasy and beautiful.
Karl LarsonShoaling is a special piece for us. Fjóla is a close friend, and it’s one of the first things that was written for Bearthoven (if I’m not mistaken, there was a period of time where Shoaling literally comprised 50 percent of our repertoire). We’ve been playing it for a long time, but I always discover new elements or opportunities in the music each time we revisit the piece.
Matt Evans I think Shoaling is a stand-out amongst the Bearthoven repertoire because of the way she approaches the instrumentation. She treats the bass and piano as a sort of “super-instrument,” blending the two timbres to create this massive, rumbly sound. The percussion parts provide foundation for the bass/piano super-instrument and amplify the huge, broad-stroke shapes of the piece. Many of our pieces utilize a super-instrument in some shape or form. In most instances, composers place the paired instruments in rhythmic unison, stacking timbres directly on top of one another (a good example is Adrian Knight’s exquisite vibes/piano writing in The Ringing World, which is one of my favorite moments in Trios). Fjóla’s piece differs in that the piano and bass are constantly coming in and out of sync with one another, almost like we’re chasing each other around. It creates this mesmerizing, nebulous effect, which I really love.
Bearthoven and special guest Fjóla Evans perform at Le Poisson Rouge on April 18 at 7:15pm; www.lpr.com. Preorder Trios using the link in the Bandcamp player or via the Bang on a Can web store, or find it at your favorite retailer on May 5.
On June 12, National Sawdust hosted the culminating event of its inaugural Hildegard Competition, which seeks to encourage inclusivity in the arts through the mentorship of women and non-binary composers.