The goal of reNEW Music: Erase new-music stigma.
The Reno nonprofit is out to spread a love for classical music throughout the area via original compositions by different composers. The next reNEW event is at 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 25, when the Reno Modern Brass will be performing at Craft Wine and Beer; the event is free.
During a recent interview with reNEW Music president Paul Fleming, he explained how the organization got its start.
“ReNEW music got started in 2019 as an organization under the fiscal sponsorship of another local nonprofit called Tahoe Chamber Music Society,” Fleming said. “Since then, we’ve kind of been developing small chamber ensemble groups; we have our resident brass quintet, the Reno Modern Brass. … That’s our No. 1 small chamber ensemble. There is also a string quartet. When we were first getting started, the pandemic hit us, so we quickly had to pivot to very small scale activities. We did a series of solo works that were commissioned for a lot of Reno composers, but also composers living around the world, which we recorded from our homes and released online. Doing that project, we were able to uncover the breadth of composing prowess that we have right here in our community. We are finding opportunities to work with many local composers who haven’t really had an ensemble or an organization to play the music that they want to be writing.
“Just this March, we became our own 501(c)(3), and in doing so, we’ve been able to apply for larger-size grants, and put our sights on more large scale, long-term projects.”
Fleming plans to assemble a number of different groups and ensembles.
“The reNEW Jazz Ensemble is one of our flagship large ensembles; it’s a nine-piece jazz ensemble that we’re going to be commissioning more and more local composers, particularly jazz musicians, to write for,” Fleming said. “Another one is the reNEW Music Sculpture Garden, which is a collection of small-scale works, but performed in an accessible way. … The other one that we’re looking long-term towards is our biggest and most ambitious project, which you’ll see in June 2023, the reNEW Ensemble, which is going to have anywhere between 13 to 18 people onstage, depending on the composer and the piece that’s being written for it. In the short time since we’ve been in existence, we’ve commissioned over three dozen works, most of which are by composers that live right here in Reno.”
Fleming, a musician himself, felt the need to bring an appreciation for new music to Reno.
“I’m from Reno. I went to college here, but I lived for about a decade in Boston, which has a thriving new music scene, which I was very, very lucky to be a part of,” Fleming said. “I got familiar with the process of partnering with composers, and kind of being a part of that process. When I came back to Reno, I was playing quite a bit, but there didn’t exist any avenues for me to help with the creative process to help bring new works to life.”
Reno Modern Brass was the first group born out of the project.
“We played our first concert in the fall of 2017, maybe the spring of 2018,” said Fleming. “We have relationships with a lot of people in town—jazz musicians, jazz composers—so when I had an idea for starting up a brass quintet, it was basically just: Who do we know? Who do we like? Who do we enjoy being around? People are writing jazz tunes all the time to play in their combos, so we just asked them, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about writing a brass quintet (piece) for us?’ We’re extremely lucky to have several pieces written for us, just kind of as gifts by the jazz musician and composer Brandon Sherman, as well as the jazz pianist and composer Tristan Selzler. … We knew a lot of other people who were also looking to create new music, or at least be a part of an experience that is new and different and visceral and real and relevant, in a way that hasn’t really been attempted before in our town.”
Fleming doesn’t just want to see new music created; he wants to start conversations, too.
“One of the big things that you’re going to see in all of our reNEW Music events is an openness and a dialogue between the composer and the performer and the audience,” he said. “… If you just show up to a recital, and people blast weird noises at you for an hour, and then you walk away, it might have you feeling a different way about the music itself. When a lot of people think about new music, they think it’s weird, or it’s overly academic, or it’s just weird to be weird. That’s the opposite of what we’re trying to foster with this organization, and you’re going to see that in any of the events that you attend.”
ReNEW Music is also planning to bring new music to people who normally wouldn’t think they’d enjoy it by hosting events at nontraditional venues.
“We’ve had several brass quintet performances at Craft Wine and Beer, which is a midtown beer and liquor store with a beautiful little event space in the back,” Fleming said. “We don’t want ourselves to be seen so much in recital halls, or at the university space, even though those are great spaces which are built beautifully acoustically. Part of giving access and granting people permission to enjoy the music on their own terms includes taking away the structures and the norms that surround classical music and new music. When we talk to a place like Cypress, and we say, ‘Hey, we want to do a new music concert in your space,’ we don’t necessarily talk about it as a recital; we talk about it as an event or an experience. Once we describe what we’re going after, people are usually really, really excited. People might be talking about it in a way that people don’t usually talk about their spaces, like, ‘Hey, I never thought that I’d be seeing a string quartet in the bar before, but I’m enjoying myself, and this is cool.’”
Reno Modern Brass will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at Craft Wine and Beer, 22 Martin St., in Reno. Admission is free. For more information, visit renomodernbrass.com. For more information on reNEW Music, visit renewensemble.org.