Times Two envisions new musical opportunities, communities
The percussionist Maria Finkelmeier and the composer Robert Honstein are easily two of the more plugged-in operatives currently at work in Boston’s new-music scene. Finkelmeier, a one-woman dynamo, is the program manager of the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department at the New England Conservatory. Outside of her day job, she plays concerts regularly, conducts workshops, and organizes such oversize public events as Make Music Boston (which returns on June 21) and the performance of John Luther Adams’s “Inuksuit” that will open the rejuvenated Outside the Box festival on Boston Common (July 14).
Honstein, meanwhile, keeps busy with Sleeping Giant, the renowned composers’ collaborative he founded with five Yale University classmates, which recently premiered a new completion of Mozart’s unfinished Requiem with the Albany Symphony Orchestra. His works pop up regularly in Boston concerts, and he presently serves as composer-in-residence with local early-plus-contemporary music ensemble Antico Moderno.
But Finkelmeier and Honstein weren’t always consummate insiders. Newly arrived from New York just a few years ago, the two connected through mutual friends, and they found common cause in fomenting the kind of musical camaraderie they had recently left behind.
Earlier this year, after long months of planning, came the most tangible result of their connection: Times Two, a new grass-roots concert series at the Record Company, a nonprofit, community-oriented studio in a gritty neighborhood near the South Bay shopping center in Boston. Each concert pairs up artists who represent disparate locations and styles. With two successful events under their belts, Finkelmeier and Honstein double down on Saturday, presenting Jason Treuting of So Percussion, jazz drummer Aaron Staebell, bassist-vocalist Lisa Dowling, and flutist Mike Avitabile to end their first season.
“We say that Times Two is about putting artists together who come from different places, and we take that in a very broad sense,” Honstein says, chatting over coffee at a cafe in Jamaica Plain, where both he and Finkelmeier live. “It can be style, or it can also be geography, which I think is also really important. Boston has a really rich scene and there’s a lot of fantastic musicians, but I think it’s really important to be bringing in outside things. One of the ways to increase the dialog of your scene, and to make it deeper and richer, is to have a back-and-forth with people from out of town.”
Assuring a diversity that extends beyond the tastes and Rolodexes of two well-connected curators, Finkelmeier explains that she and Honstein engage performers without telling them what to play. “We’re not saying, We love this composition, let’s find musicians to play it,” she says. “We’re saying, We really love this artist, their aesthetic, their sound, their voice. Let’s bring them in and let’s pair them with this other artist that could be in a comparable genre aesthetically, or it could be totally different.”
If creating dialog among artists and audience is the goal, Finkelmeier and Honstein take their roles as conversation starters seriously. “The way the shows flow is that Robert and I will introduce what Times Two is and what they’re about to see, but there’s time beforehand and at intermission where everybody gets to mingle,” Finkelmeier says. “We make a really big point to try to go and say hello to everybody sitting in the audience. At the last one, I had a personal conversation with everybody there.”
Granted, that’s not so hard to do when your audience numbers 50 members or less, but for the Times Two founders, the quality of each experience has outweighed the quantity of attendees, which they expect to grow gradually as word spreads. It didn’t hurt to have Julie Burros, the chief of arts and culture for the City of Boston, enthusiastically reporting her response to their May concert on Twitter, even tweeting a photo of Honstein’s newborn son in his protective earphones.
Her presence was important, Honstein says, because it indicates that “culture matters from the ground up. You have the ICA, you have the BSO, but then you have little series like us. And it all matters, because it’s an ecosystem.” In New York, he explains, he and Finkelmeier watched as fellow artists built venues such as Le Poisson Rouge and National Sawdust, which play increasingly vital roles in that city’s musical life.
Such a space has yet to take root here. “But I really believe that there is an audience there that has yet to be tapped,” Honstein says. He cites Phoenix Orchestra, the Equilibrium Concert Series, and the Original Gravity Concert Series as kindred spirits: “little upstarts that are trying to put music in settings that are not academic, that are more just like approachable, accessible.”
“There are a lot of younger people who are culturally sophisticated, who are curious, coming from all kinds of different fields, that would be interested in this, but the setting isn’t quite there for it,” he continues. “They’re not going to go to an auditorium at Harvard; they want to go to a place that’s in the town, that you can buy a drink, that feels like you’re going out. And for us, the Record Company really was that. It’s in a part of town where a lot of people have their studios. It feels raw; it feels like artists are there because it’s affordable, and because it has the space. But I like that; we’re plugging into that. The place itself is a way of opening a door to that community.”
Watch a video of Times Two here:
New name, renewed mission
Speaking of Mike Avitabile, this week brought news that Boston Young Composers Ensemble, the promising group that Avitabile founded in 2013, will henceforth be known as Hub New Music. The renewed ensemble will continue to specialize in works composed since 2000, emphasizing up-and-coming composers. Two enticing events have been announced so far: a program of chamber pieces by the Sleeping Giant composer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Andrew Norman at the Museum of Fine Arts (Aug. 13), and a portrait concert devoted to works by New England Conservatory faculty member Kati Agócs at Jordan Hall (Jan. 24). www.hubnewmusic.org
With Jason Treuting, Aaron Staebell, Lisa Dowling, and Mike Avitabile
At: The Record Company, 960 Massachusetts Ave., Saturday at 7 p.m.
Suggested donation: $15. www.timestwoseries.com