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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 27, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 27
Peabody Mini-Festival Showcases the Art of Musical Improvisation

Audrey Chen

By Kirsten Lavin
Peabody Institute

For two months this spring, the Peabody Institute will present a unique look at the art of improvisation with a mini-festival titled Peabody Explores ... the Art of Improvisation, featuring classical and jazz concerts, opera and dance performances, lecture/demonstrations and associated events.

Peabody Explores is an initiative, launched last season with the Second Viennese School, that focuses artistic programming and academic curriculum on one specific aspect of the musical experience. With performances by faculty, students and guest artists in recitals, large and small ensembles and multidisciplinary collaborations, the series highlights the breadth and depth of artistic creativity and innovative presentations that audiences have come to recognize as distinctly Peabody.

While many people associate improvisation mostly with jazz, the art form has been an integral part of the musical spectrum for centuries. Early-music composers often sketched out their scores in an open-ended way, allowing performers to play an important role in the creative process. In the 19th century, virtuoso artists used the cadenza of a concerto to showcase their own inventive skills; in opera, singers enjoyed similar latitude to embellish arias. Many 19th-century Romantic composers, among them Liszt and Chopin, gave recitals in which they composed works as they went along.

Classical music then went through a period of becoming more "fixed" in performance until a 20th-century wave of experimentation saw many composers creating works that provide performers with opportunities for artistic freedom, often with multimedia collaborations, and improvisation again came to the fore.

Peabody Explores ... the Art of Improvisation will offer a broad spectrum of performances and events. Contemporary music ensembles will perform works illustrating the improvisational cutting edge, the Peabody Opera Workshop will present an evening of new works generated by a process of group improvisation, and the Peabody Dance Spring Showcase incorporates new choreography resulting from improvisatory interactions between dancers and musicians.

Many of the events will be free of charge, including lecture/demonstrations featuring particular instruments, such as cello, organ, harpsichord and voice.

The series begins on Saturday, April 1, when Audrey Chen will give a performance of voice and cello improvisation at 6:30 p.m. in Griswold Hall. At 7:30 p.m., also in Griswold Hall, the Peabody Camerata will perform works by composers with highly original voices. Director Gene Young has chosen Schoenberg's arrangement of Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; Georges Aperghis' Recitations and Terry Riley's influential In C. Both events are free.

For a complete list of events, go to


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