Babcock Season act Zeitgeist blends new and traditional chamber music

Posted on February 20, 2017 by Janika Carey

Photo by Zoe Prinds-Flash

Sweet Briar College’s 2016-17 Babcock Season continues at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, in Memorial Chapel with a performance by new music chamber ensemble Zeitgeist. The event is free and open to the public.

The program will feature several pieces by women composers, including “Hands,” “Flight Suite” and “Lines” by Mary Ellen Childs; “This World is Maya” by Janika Vandervelde; and “If Tigers Were Clouds” by Eleanor Hovda. In addition, Zeitgeist will play a piece by Joshua Harris, an assistant professor of music at Sweet Briar. “OCT 21 2015” was one of four works selected by the American Composers Forum and Zeitgeist for the inaugural ACF Showcase in 2014.

Founded in 1977 at Macalester College in St. Paul, Zeitgeist is one of the longest established new music groups in the country. Zeitgeist’s website describes the genre as an “extension of the classical music tradition,” representing the “cutting and creative edge of classical music. New music can incorporate elements of many different musical genres, including classical, jazz, rock, world music and others.”

With two percussion instruments, piano and woodwinds, the ensemble offers “a once-in-a-lifetime experience for adventurous concertgoers,” according to its website. The current group consists of percussionists Patti Cudd and Heather Barringer, woodwind player Pat O’Keefe and pianist Nicola Melville.

From left: Pat O’Keefe, Heather Barringer, Patti Cudd and Nicola Melville. Photo by Zoe Prinds-Flash

Zeitgeist has been creating new music for the past three decades, commissioning more than 400 works and collaborating with emerging and established composers. The group works with poets, choreographers, directors, visual and sound artists of all types to create imaginative work that “challenges the boundaries of traditional chamber music.” Upcoming projects include new works by Mary Ellen Childs, Davu Seru, Andrew Rindfleisch and Pamela Z.

Internationally known for its innovative approach to music, Zeitgeist is very active in the Twin Cities, developing several audience-building programs, including the Eric Stokes Song Contest (amateur composition contest), Making Music Outside the Lines (new music performance activities for high school students) and A New Music Stew (a long-term composition project with students from St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts). Zeitgeist also operates Studio Z, a performance space where audiences, composers and new music performers can come together to experience the music of our time. Studio Z is home to most of Zeitgeist’s local performances and hosts other local new music artists throughout the year.

Zeitgeist has released numerous recordings, including “She is a Phantom” (music of Harold Budd), “A Decade” (music of Frederic Rzewski), “Intuitive Leaps” (music of Terry Riley), “Eric Stokes” (music of Eric Stokes), “If Tigers Were Clouds” (music of experimental women composers), “Shape Shifting” (music by Scott Miller, poetry by Philippe Costaglioli), “In Bone-Colored Light” (works by Ethan Wickman, Anthony Gatto, Katherine Jackanich and Jerome Kitzke), “Night Singing” (music of Andrew Rindfleisch), “Here and Now” (works by 30 Minnesota composers), “Tipping Point” (chamber works by Scott Miller) and “For the Birds” (music by Victor Zupanc, poetry by Kevin Kling).

The concert will be followed by a reception in Pannell Gallery. For more information, visit, or contact Natalie Szabo at or (434) 381-6350.