The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Previews Alarm Will Sound’s St. Louis Concert Season

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 2012

By Sarah Bryan Miller

Another new music series in St. Louis starts up Thursday night at the Sheldon Concert Hall, when Alarm Will Sound performs the first program in its inaugural three-concert “St. Louis season.”

Alarm Will Sound, a critically acclaimed 20-member “contemporary classical” chamber band, will give the initial performance as part of the American Arts Experience Festival. It will include music by John Adams, John Cage, Aphex Twin, Yotam Haber, Conlon Nancarrow, Charles Wuorinen and Stefan Freund, a music professor at the University of Missouri who’s also the cellist for Alarm Will Sound.

The season started with a conversation with the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation, says AWS artistic director and conductor Alan Pierson. One of the Foundation’s projects — a special focus for Jeanne Sinquefield, philanthropist and double bassist — is the Mizzou New Music Initiative, including an annual program for young composers, from kindergarten through undergraduate, and the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival.

AWS has made the trip to Columbia, Mo., for the last three summers to work with young composers; extending the connection to a St. Louis season, he says, seemed like a natural. “Jeanne Sinquefield has a vision of making Missouri a center for young composers. We just had a feeling that there was an advocate here for contemporary music in a part of the country that doesn’t have the density” of the Northeast.

AWS, which has been around since its members met at the Eastman School of Music in 1996 and became official in 2001, has 17 members (“We really are a band”), divided among string players, brass, woodwinds, percussion and keyboard. The ensemble’s repertoire includes everything from Steve Reich’s minimalism to electronic music by Edgard Varèse, from engaging settings of medieval music to equally engaging jazz-based works.

It is, says Pierson (whose “other big job” is as assistant conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic), “a collectively driven group; we make all the decisions together.”

That includes the band’s name. “We spent a lot of time brainstorming names. We had a list of literally hundreds and hundreds of name possibilities.” They finally settled on a suggestion from managing director Gavin Chuck, who noticed a sign on an exit that proclaimed that an alarm would sound if the door were opened. “It’s a good name,” says Pierson. “It says we’re beyond a limit in some ways, pushing a boundary, always taking risks.”

It goes well with being what he calls “hard to categorize. We’re all classically trained; we work with a lot of composers, and do a lot of projects, that bring music together from all traditions. Many of us take gigs (performing) all kinds of music.” For the most part, they work from written notation.

This concert is part of the Sheldon’s American music festival, which helped shape the program. “We wanted a program that showed the range of what (AWS) does; we wanted to do music from our three years at the Mizzou New Music Festival,” Pierson says. “And we wanted something from someone who’s really a well-known composer. Not everyone knows Alarm Will Sound; everyone knows John Adams.”

The program will conclude with a pair of works written for AWS, Haber’s “We Were All,” from the 2011 Mizzou festival, and “Unremixed,” by AWS cellist Freund.

“That’s typical of us,” says Pierson. “More and more, as we mature as a group, it really is our music.”

Alarm Will Sound

When • 8 p.m. Thursday

Where • The Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Boulevard

How much • $10 to $20

More info • or 314-533-9900. The band’s other St. Louis concerts are March 20 at the Sheldon and April 26 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.

Online • Hear samples of Alarm Will Sound’s music on their website: Alarm Will Sound

Online at :

October 2012