Jason Hardink spent this past summer exploring the music of 20th Century Greek composer Iannis Xenakis — the Artistic Director of NOVA Chamber Music Series tells us he was planning to program their season opener with three Xenakis works: a solo piano piece and two solo percussion pieces. But, points out Executive Director Kimi Kawashima, “As Jason practiced the piano piece, he realized programmatically, this is not going to work.”
“Well, it would have been awesome” interrupts Hardink.
“Of course it would have been awesome,” agrees Kawashima.
Ultimately, Hardink programmed solo violin music by Bach instead of the piano piece. He still isn’t sure what he would have preferred, but he just didn’t think it was what NOVA needed at that particular moment. How NOVA programs their concerts is critical to their organization. This is no garage band. “We don’t do pot-boiler programs” explains Hardink. “Sometimes chamber music can be like that – not caring how the pieces work together.”
Hardink and Kawashima have distinct responsibilities, but business and programming decisions are often a result of conversations they have with one another throughout the day, or in the case of replacing the Xenakis with the Bach, during a night out. You see, not only do Hardink and Kawashima make up the entire NOVA staff, the two happen to be married with three year-old twin boys. “Last year was an experiment as far as our working style” says Kawashima. “That was a little rough in some ways. We had to figure it out.”
“It seems like it brings added stress to our marriage that is totally unnecessary,” jokes Hardink. “For instance, the marketing is an area of our organization that doesn’t really have clear boundaries. We just redesigned our website and there were so many details. The stress was crazy. But it is one of those things where it’s better to work as a team.” Even when Kawashima is writing a grant, she enjoys the convenience of having someone there to talk things out and explore new angles.
Hardink joined NOVA in 2009 when the previous Artistic Director and fellow Utah Symphony player Corbin Johnston approached him. Kawashima, who is an adjunct faculty member at Westminster College, was named Executive Director just last year. Hardink claims Johnston had a master plan for him and his wife to run NOVA together.
NOVA Chamber Music Series was founded in 1977 when Utah Symphony clarinetist Russell Harlow realized there wasn’t a strong presence in town for presenting local musicians. An attitude that our community required performers from outside to bring good music to Utah was a driving force behind the inception. Hardink is only the fourth artistic director in 36 years. NOVA’s mission is simple: “To be Utah’s premiere forum for resident professional artists to perform high quality concerts of chamber music to audiences in intimate settings and at affordable prices.” On top of showcasing local performers, NOVA programmed four premieres by local composers for this season. On November 10th, they will feature French composers Poulenc and Fauré as well as short piano pieces by Utah composer Morris Rosenzweig, along with his trio for horn, violin and piano. This concert contrasts older, more accessible music with contemporary classical which can be a bit more challenging. “Chamber music can be very conservative, but the one thing I knew when I came on was that our audience was open-minded. I respond to a lot of what I sense from them. The concerts where we pair old and new music seem to sell the best because you can’t seem to get that variety anywhere else in Utah. The performers really get behind it too, I think because it’s so out of the ordinary for what classical musicians do every day. I’ve done all Beethoven Concerts and all Schubert Concerts and they’ve been the worst attended concerts.”
Hardink keeps pushing difficult repertoire and tickets keep selling. “Back in 2007 a bunch of organizations including NOVA, Gina Bauchauer, Utah Symphony, and the Cathedral got together to present the MessiaenFestival,” he recalls. “The NOVA audience liked it, the Gina Bauchauer people were totally open to the solo piece I played, and the Cathedral had no issues, but the Utah Symphony crowd was not ready for a 90-minute Messiaen piece. What I learned is you just can’t have really conservative programming all year long and then drop a contemporary piece on an audience expecting them to get it.” Hardink brought this experience when he started with NOVA and has quite deliberately been curating their audience’s awareness. Kawashima tells a story of a gallery they visited in Amsterdam: “I could tell the curator had a strong opinion about this one Russian artist. He put one of his paintings in every room. I remember thinking, ‘He’s trying to make a point about the importance of this dude.’ His work was placed alongside Picasso and then some lesser-known artists. I never thought of that idea of being a curator. You’re guiding someone without having to say anything, and I think that’s the approach we’re taking. You can walk away and not be affected, or you can let it stay with you. That’s what has happened with a lot of these juxtapositions we’re making in our programming.”
“You don’t want it to be contrived or pretentious” Hardink clarifies. “This is just the way I like to experience music and this is what I’m trying to share.” He gives an example: “Take Beethoven and Rihm. We decided to do this Beethoven sonata cycle. If you were just to do sonatas and nothing else, the concerts would be too long. I wouldn’t say he’s ‘the Beethoven of today’ but Wolfgang Rihm is unquestionably the greatest living German composer right now. The funny thing about modern classical music is there is so much that people can recognize and respond to even if they’re going into a concert with a question mark. Rihm’s music has so much energy and imagination and when you place him next to Beethoven the juxtaposition is abrupt. Their languages don’t have a lot in common on the surface, but the more you listen the more you can make connections.” Kawashima adds, “You find one composer informs the listening of the other. The beginning of the first Rihm is just a single note in the low register. I think it builds an awareness of sound that I’m sure Beethoven felt with certain sonorities and things like that. They really do complement each other in a wild comparison.”
This year NOVA expanded their programming by adding a Gallery Series. On October 13, they performed the Beethoven and Rihm concert to a sold out audience at The Art Barn on Finch Lane. The program featured Utah Symphony Associate concertmaster Kathryn Eberle on the violin and of course Hardink at the piano. The idea was to play in an intimate venue with a small number of musicians – much how chamber music was originally heard. They will do one more gallery concert this season at the Art Barn and they hope to continue this series next season. Hardink and Kawashima have many ideas for the future, but creative programming will always come first. “We’re always trying to be as creative as possible as how the music is presented and how the musicians play off each other,” says Hardink. “I would hope that creative energy is something that will continue to inform the way the organization functions.”
Featured performers: Stephen Proser, horn; Jason Hardink, piano; Lun Jiang, violin; Roberta Zalkind, viola; Anne Francis Bayless, cello; Michael Chipman, baritone. This concert includes a world premiere by Utah composer, Morris Rosenzweig who was profiled in the February 2013 edition of 15 Bytes.
Laura Durham works for KUED Channel-7 in the Creative Services Department, curating community engagement projects for both PBS and KUED productions that foster trust and value to the communities in Utah. She also produces Contact with Mary Dickson and Contact in the Community — a digital series featuring arts and culture groups in Utah. Prior to her work at KUED, Laura spent 15 years at the Utah Division of Arts & Museums in the visual arts program and later managing communications, branding, marketing, and public value projects for all arts and museums programming. She has served the Utah community in various capacities with her role as Vice President of the Salt Lake Gallery Association and Program Director for the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. She lives in Salt Lake City, sings with Utah Chamber Artists, and loves to contribute to 15 Bytes as often as time allows.