Winter Solstice Concert heralds spring

November 13, 1992|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Contributing Writer

Two things the performers of the Winter Solstice Concert at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts want you to know: It's not a Christmas concert, and it's not New Age music.

When the Winter Solstice tour first came to Annapolis three years ago, the sponsor, Windham Hill Records, said that the concert helped celebrate the anticipated increase of daylight as the dead of winter slowly gives way to the rebirth of spring.

But there is another emphasis to the Nov. 20 concert.

"People have become so tarnished by the marketplace," pianist Philip Aaberg says. "This is a way to take the commercialism out of Christmas, by playing music that appeals to the spirit, at a time when people are most receptive to things of the spirit."

And as far as the music is concerned, "you'll have trouble finding any artists who'll say they're New Age artists," says singer Barbara Higbie, also on the bill, along with Mr. Aaberg and the Modern Mandolin Quartet (Mike Marshall, Dana Rath, John Imholz and Paul Binkley).

"It's just too broad, or maybe too narrow, and doesn't really fit what we all do. To me, New Age music means meditation music, and what I do is definitely not meditation music."

Active in music since the age of 3, and a professional since her late teens, Ms. Higbie said that she performs in a variety of styles.

"I'm a singer-songwriter, and also I write a lot of instrumental music for the piano and the fiddle. My background in music is folk, jazz, classical and a lot of world music, so I'm definitely right in the middle of a lot of categories. I try to write songs that have a lot interesting music in them."

The performers prefer to call what they do contemporary adult music, with a variety of input from many cultures and sensibilities.

Mr. Aaberg said, "New Age music? I wouldn't describe it so. That's a category that comes from writers, and that's their job, to define. My job is to play the music and be a good musician."

Michael Marshall, founder of the acoustic and classically oriented Modern Mandolin Quartet, said that his group joined this year's tour on the strength of their 1991 holiday album, which featured "The Nutcracker Suite." He said that being on the Windham Hill label has been a positive experience, with one drawback.

"We're playing classical music," he said. "But we wind up in the New Age bins [in record stores] because of the label, and so what ends up happening is that it's opened up a whole new audience for us. But at the same time, people who look in the classical bins don't find us, so it's a double-edged sword."

He described his colleagues as "classical guitarists gone astray, a great bunch of guys. We all get along really well. John and David in fact, do most of the arranging for the group. They really understand how to take an orchestral score and bring it down to four voices."

He praised the two solo acts on the tour, especially former partner Barbara Higbie, with whom he previously performed in a group called Montreux, calling her "one of these musicians who came through the classical traditions."

"Then of course she plays jazz, so she understands improvising and has a pretty sophisticated concept of harmony and rhythm. Consequently her songs are a little more interesting than you'd guess. She's a great performer."

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