Hornist Jeffrey Agrell and pianist Evan Mazunik do something almost no one else does – they improvise modern classical music. Since they began collaborating in 2000 (at the University of Iowa, where Agrell is the horn professor), they have delighted audiences with their unique style – call it by turns toe-tapping, melodious, thoughtful, touching, humorous, outrageous, amazing. Since they are inventing the territory, they must compose their own material. Each piece has written-out sections, and, like frames for a picture, the composed parts surround opportunities to improvise. Many, if not most, people believe that improvisation = jazz. There are jazz influences, to be sure, but there are many ways to improvise outside of jazz styles. This is one of them, and is one answer to the question: if contemporary classical players improvised, what would it sound like?
The improvisation here is not often over set chord progressions as in jazz. . More often the direction of the melody, rhythm, and mood arises from the two performers listening and reacting to what arises in the moment. Decisions about what to play and for how long take place during performance.
In classical music, nothing is left to chance. Here, almost everything is. This music retains the complexity, beauty, and sense of classical music, but adds the pizzazz and unexpected turns of improvisation. In one sense, it is a type of ‘free improvisation’, but it always ‘sounds like music’, not random chaotic mumblings.
This is sit-up-in-your-seat music, where-did-that-come-from music, what’s-going-to-happen-next music. You might call it classical music that has gotten off the page, over the wall, and is having a night on the town. Alternative classical. Classical in denim instead of lace.
This is exhilarating musical exploration, taking you somewhere west of the Salon and east of the Saloon.