Cicadas at the Equinox

As creative director of Manitou Winds, I would have to say unconventional combinations are a specialty of our ensemble. Whether we’re combining seemingly unrelated instruments (e.g., clarinet, ukulele, and harp) or calling upon an instrument to play something most would consider “out of character,” we don’t mind breaking with tradition. That’s why I was excited to search for more opportunities to stretch both characters and colors in a program inspired by complementary colors.

A wind quintet is in itself an unconventional color combination. Each instrument in the ensemble has a strikingly different character because none of the instruments are in the same family. In contrast to the deeply rich and monochromatic sounds of a string quartet, brass quintet, or saxophone quartet; a wind quintet has an inherent edge to its sound. It offers a broad range of warmth, expressiveness, contrasts, and colors for a composer to experiment with.

You can imagine my delight when I stumbled upon Cicadas at the Equinox: a composition for wind quintet and guitar written by Matthew Cochran, Instructor of Guitar at Interlochen Arts Academy. After listening to the recording he created with the Coreopsis Quintet, I was determined to bring this unique color combo to a Manitou Winds program.

Pairing guitar and wind quintet is a bold move – some might call it “out of character.” While the acoustic guitar is an instrument capable of a large range of sound and character, many listeners generally associate it with subtlety, mellowness, romanticism, and the gentle quietude of solo passages. By comparison, the wind quintet is a ragtag, ad-hoc choir pulled straight from the quirkiest section of the orchestra. And yet Matthew’s unlikely sextet draws these voices into a dialogue where contrasts and commonalities are blurred like watercolors.

He begins with a beautiful solo guitar passage and alternates with the sustaining power of the quintet in gentle underscoring. As the piece progresses, members of the quintet take on more of the guitar’s character in their own voices. Though you might expect this to be a guitar-driven piece, as the piece reaches its climax you will likely question who’s at the wheel! The parts become remarkably interwoven and collaborative.

With Matthew’s evocative title and sensitive scoring, the mind can create its own mini documentary as the piece unfolds. A quiet summer morning dawns as a single cicada emerges from the ground, climbs a nearby tree, and waits for its wings. More and more cicadas emerge and take flight until a frenzied celebration descends and the meadow is filled with the sounds of their delight. Later, as the sun dips below the trees, they gradually disappear into the evening as one by one they go quiet.

Cicadas at the Equinox is the lone survivor from an ill-fated crossover record I made in 2013 called ‘Vapor Trail from a Paper Plane’,” Matthew explained. “I’m deeply grateful to Manitou Winds for this opportunity to exhume an old friend!”

We’re honored to collaborate with Matthew to share this unique work with a Northern Michigan audience!

As part of our program Matthew will also share a three-part solo guitar composition entitled 3 Non-Algorithmic Human Interactions. Matthew says he wrote this triptych during the early lock-down phase of the pandemic. “My interactions with people outside of my immediate family were only possible through the intervention of software,” he says. “I suppose I’m vaguely thankful that video calls and social media are a thing, but even well-intentioned algorithms are a poor substitute for the warmth of human interaction.”

I couldn’t agree more! We’re grateful for each opportunity we get to share musical moments with each of you – live and in-person. We hope you’ll join us for Complementary Colors on Saturday, May 6, 2023, at Grace Episcopal Church in Traverse City. Together we’ll take you on a journey of color and texture through a dynamic program of music and spoken word. Surrounded by the artwork of our collaborating artist, Lauren Everett Finn, and the voices of modern composers, we’ll explore how artists in many disciplines use color as their language of expression.

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