As part of USC’s Southern Exposure New Music Series, the university will be hosting a concert featuring Founders, a New York-based group that has found success by rooting its music in tradition and then deviating from it.
The concert will take place Jan. 28 in the School of Music Recital Hall.
Michael Harley, a professor of bassoon at USC, is also the artistic director of the Southern Exposure New Music Series. He encourages all students to attend the Founders performance to experience this group of “extremely dynamic, accomplished, communicative musicians.”
The innovative classical ensemble is made up of group members Ben Russell, Brandon Ridenour, Hamilton Berry, Yoonah Kim, and Greg Chudzik.
The group's members received conservatory training, which is characterized by an emphasis on discipline and focus, and Harley called them some of the finest freelance musicians in New York. However, despite the group's high-skill level and traditional formal training, many aspects of its work are out of the ordinary.
For instance, Ridenour, who plays the trumpet and piano for Founders, said that the group operates differently than other classical groups.
"We tend to function more like a band than your typical classical chamber group, string quartet or whatever. We're all writers ourselves, and so we'll write songs for our group as well, which I think is the thing that makes us kind of unusual," Ridenour said.
According to Harley, the band also utilizes non-standard instrumentation. This means that while members of a group will often play instruments from the same family — such as in string quartets or brass quintets — Founders doesn't conform to this.
The group is comprised of a trumpeter, a violinist, a bassist, a cellist and a clarinetist. Harley also said he has known all the players to sing at some point during their performances.
It is partly because of this non-standard instrumentation that Founders has had to develop its own arrangements, as few existing pieces were written for that combination of instruments.
The piece that Founders will be performing for the Southern Exposure New Music Series is a reimagining of Olivier Messiaen’s "Quartet for the End of Time," which Ridenour originally arranged for his graduation recital at Juilliard.
A preview performance of this piece at the 2020 SAVVY International Chamber Competition won Founders both the competition and the audience choice award. This win allowed the group to return to USC as artists-in-residence and to perform at the university.
According to Ridenour, the group also hopes to deliver a unique and compelling concert experience, in addition to its innovative arrangements.
“We're not trying to put on concerts where we walk on, everybody claps, we play a piece of music and we walk offstage. We're not really trying to do something that's your typical, formal classical music,” Ridenour said.
One way the group hopes to do this is by incorporating new creative components into its performances. Ridenour mentioned the addition of more experiential elements, which would allow the audience to experience the piece beyond hearing it.
The performance is free and those wishing to watch the performance from home can also access a free live stream link, although Ridenour believes that an attendee can get, at best, half of the experience online that they would in person.
"A big thing is being in the room when it's happening. You're experiencing the vibrations of the sounds being made directly — directly to your ears and your body. You can actually feel the bass, you can experience the trumpet hitting you in the face. That's just different. It's always more impactful when you're there in person," Ridenour said.
Gabriel Sullivan, a second-year music education major at USC, has attended university concerts in the past, and he is familiar with the Southern Exposure New Music series. He said even students with limited knowledge of music can still enjoy the performances.
"I feel that, especially Southern Exposure,...it's not a lot of classical music that a lot of people associate with concert band and academic music. They try to pick music that would be interesting to those kinds of crowds," Sullivan said.
Ridenour also shared that Founders' music appeals to a variety of people and both older and younger age groups. At this concert, they would like to see a large number of college students, because the group traveled to USC with a goalof encouraging young people to be more thoughtful in their everyday-lives and to continue honing their musical craft.
"We hope to see lots and lots of college students, that would be great," Ridenour said. "It's a big reason why we are there at the college or university — to inspire and play for the next generation of young talents."