, Gloucester, MA

January 31, 2013

Bird-themed concert on tap for weekend

Ensemble to perform pieces influenced by flight and song

By Gail McCarthy
Staff Writer

---- — The award-winning Radius Ensemble will perform a unique bird-themed concert at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport this Saturday.

The concert program, created especially in honor of Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend, includes both classical and contemporary works that explore birds, said Jennifer Montbach, the artistic director of the seven-piece ensemble comprised of winds, strings and piano.

The Saturday concert also is a special collaboration between Rockport Music and the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce for the birding weekend, which opens Friday and ends Sunday, with a dovetailing of missions. The chamber said there is still time to register for the weekend’s other activities by calling 978-283-1601 or visiting

Montbach said that Rockport Music’s artistic director David Deveau knew he wanted the ensemble to perform here during the birding weekend.

“He asked us to put together a customized birding program,” she said. “It was a challenge because we wanted to stay true to our mission, which is to present interesting works both old and new and both familiar and unfamiliar. So I dug pretty deep. For this concert we have works by Ravel and Schuman, two very well known composers for traditionalists, but we have some more modern works, too.”

One of those contemporary pieces is American composer Libby Larsen’s “Black Birds, Red Hills,” based on six paintings by the American artist Georgia O’Keefe.

The program also includes Schumann’s “The Prophet Bird,” Morrison’s “Lonesome Whistle,” and Ravel’s “Oiseaux tristes.”

Joan Tower, a Grammy Award-winning composer, created the work “Island Prelude.”

“This piece is particularly beautiful and is less about a particular bird or bird call, but more about the movement of flight. She describes a lush tropical island and a bird soaring and dipping and diving around the island,” said Montbach.

The work of Mason Bates, a young composer, will close out the program. He is the composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony. He is a composer who “fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms and the harmonies of jazz and rhythms of techno,” according to the Chicago Symphony website. “His symphonic music has been the first to receive widespread acceptance for its expanded palette of electronic sounds.”

His composition “Life of Birds,” which is for winds and strings, describes birds and their movements. The work itself has movement titles such as “Parakeet Daydream” and “Old World Flycatcher.”

The Radius Ensemble, based in Concord, Mass., was just awarded a 2013 Chamber Music America ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming on Jan. 20 in New York City.

The annual awards recognize ensembles for distinctive programming of music composed within the past 25 years. The recipients, chosen by an independent panel of judges, were evaluated on the basis of their programming and innovations in attracting audiences to performances of new music.

Gloucester resident Chris Leahy, of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and organizer of the Cape Ann Birding Weekend, is thrilled at this new musical component so residents can not only view birds, but now can hear a concert inspired by birds.

“Our goal is that this weekend be not an event just for hard-core bird people,” he said. “Birds appeal to people on a number of levels, starting with the fact they can fly, but on another level, bird song has inspired people forever.”

For more concert details and tickets, visit or call 978-546-7391.

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3445, or

If you go Who and what: The award-winning Radius Ensemble will perform a unique bird-themed concert as part of Cape Ann Birding Weekend. When: Saturday, Feb. 2, at 8 p.m. Where: Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport. How much: For tickets and information about the concert, visit or call 978-546-7391. To register and details on the birding weekend, visit or call 978-283-1601.