The staccato fingerwork of piano virtuoso Philip Mead practically sent a row of young boys flying out of their seats at the tumultuous ending of a solo performance in Moab's Star Hall.
Mead pounded the keys of a grand piano shipped in from Salt Lake City for the occasion, fingers blurring in the fury, entrancing and visibly jolting students toward the end of a 7 1/2-minute "minimalist" musical experiment titled "Paramell Va (Five-A)."Composer Stephen Montague, who wrote and introduced the piece, warned the audience of the thunderous climax, which was reflected afterward by the question of one incredulous student who asked Mead: "How many times have you pried people off the roof?"
Another asked: "Do your hands get sore doing that?"
Not exactly musical questions, but the students didn't exactly get the full musical treatment either - not like a few nights before, when the London duo treated a more mature concert hall audience to a premiere performance of one of Montague's pieces among an electro-acoustical array of computer-aided works at Moab's first "new music" concert.
Workshops by the Montague/Mead Duo were also scheduled in Salt Lake City this week. The Moab concert was made possible by a Thomas D. Dee Foundation Grant and donation of a Steinway grand piano by Daynes Music Co. in Salt Lake City.
Montague and Mead are a duo in the sense that Mead played piano while Montague manned the electronic dials of an audio component system used to manipulate the piano and mix its sounds with prerecorded material.
Unlike rock concerts, where electronics are primarily used to amplify what is taking place onstage, in "new music," technology is used to create something different from the live performance, to alter and expand sounds and make the performing instrument more versatile.
"This is like using two different instruments to create a larger instrument. The idea is a wedding of a traditional instrument and new technology," Montague said.
"What is interesting is, you can make it whatever you want. It is abstract in the sense that it has no real definition," he said. "It's called the avant-garde, the `fore' guard. It's an attempt to push back boundaries of what is music."
Montague explained the origins and demonstrated the uniqueness of "new music" to about 50 Grand County students earlier this week as part of an international composers conference sponsored by the University of Utah music department. The conference, coordinated by the U.'s Moab College of Fine Arts, was conducted at Pack Creek Ranch under direction of U. music professor Henry C. Wolking.
The conference brought composition students together for one-on-one instruction from the Montague/Mead duo as well as other master practitioners from Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and the intermountain area.
Mead, 43, is a leading figure in British contemporary music and has been a featured performer throughout Europe and in this country as a soloist and with several ensembles.
Montague, 47, is an award-winning American composer based in London. He is known as a pioneer in computer-generated piano music and has recorded for all the major European radio networks. He has also performed at Carnegie Hall, London's South Bank Centre and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
As an aside during an interview, Montague praised the historic Star Hall as a wonderful little concert hall, one of the more elegant features in an otherwise "unelegant" town.
"I have played in worse places in Europe. I'm not comparing it to Carnegie Hall or the Pompidou in Paris, but we played in Ottawa, Canada, and this is a better hall - better acoustics," he said.
The conference included a pre-concert tour through Arches National Park, the "inspiration" element university organizers emphasize to set Moab workshops apart from typical institutional conferences.
While Mead said setting doesn't make much difference to him, Montague and the U.'s Wolking said they were personally moved by the surroundings, as were the students, and it will be reflected in future compositions.
"It will affect me in some way," Montague said.
Wolking said the participants found the area "one of the most spectacular they'd ever seen."
"A lot of people don't realize what this area does, how it gives the impetus to create. This area helps people come to sort of a realization of who they are and what they do. It's a very important place," he said.