By Cameron Grieves
Trombonist William Lang opened the first installment of this semester’s Midday Performances at the Ecumenical Center on Monday.
Originally from Long Island, Lang is an active performer, comfortable playing cramped art spaces in Greenwich Village, packed concert halls on Broadway and even small college campuses in Massachusetts.
He said he is most interested in “pushing forward pieces by living performers,” all but one of which he performed having been composed in the last five or six years.
The trombone is an instrument usually performed only as part of a larger orchestra, but Lang seeks to dispel this myth that it cannot be taken seriously in a solo performance, he said.
“The instrument doesn’t determine my value as a musician,” Lang said.
“Keren” demonstrated the versatility of the trombone’s sound, a piece composed in 1986 by Iannis Xernakis, a musician Lang referred to as one of his favorite human beings ever – a freedom fighter in Nazi-occupied Greece who was later marked for death by the anti-communist Greek government.
“Keren” is a piece that rises and falls dramatically, “giving you these moments of extraordinary beauty and then taking them away,” Lang said.
Another piece, “Can You Hear Me Now,” was composed by Lang’s friend Jeremy Howard Beck – a fellow New York artist whose work has been described as “sparse and haunting” by NPR’s Weekend Edition.
The piece incorporated a marching rhythm driven by lively foot stomping aided by a tassel of bells looped around Lang’s shoe – a tassel which fell off midway through the performance but failed to stifle Lang’s musical virtuosity.
In “sound:wonder tuba:mirum,” a piece Lang asked his German mentor Reiko Fueting to compose for him over seven years ago, there are very oblique references to Mozart’s “Requiem” – a part of which Lang describes as “the moment we live for in orchestral trombone.”
This piece showcased a rather intrinsic aspect of trombone playing – the act of breathing as a part of performative play, the silent spaces in between becoming a part of the musical performance itself.
However, these empty spaces and long, drawn-out sounds rising and falling in an alien crescendo do not necessarily play well to an audience which expects clear consistent notes that a guitar or keyboard can provide in a solo act.
Elizabeth Maloney, a junior said, “It was a strange performance. It lacked beauty and it wasn’t very captivating – just noises from a science fiction soundtrack.”
Where the trombone “lack[s] beauty,” it makes up for with a diversity of sound. Lang truly showed off the full scope of the instrument’s performative power on Monday.