Newhouse Center Kicks off Exploration of Improvisation with Innovative Concert

February 8, 2012

Vijay Iyer, Renowned Composer and Jazz Pianist, Joins Experimental Music Scholar George Lewis in Concert at Wellesley College

—Iyer and Lewis Perform Together for the first time with “Voyager” Digital Improvising Device; Concert launches Spring Improvisation Series at Wellesley—

Wellesley, Mass.  – Jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer and musician, composer, and experimental music scholar George Lewis will appear in concert at Wellesley College at 8:00 pm on Friday, February 10 in the Houghton Chapel . The musicians will perform with Lewis' "Voyager" system, a digital improvising device capable of listening and responding to human improvisatory performers. A complementing lecture, titled “Improvisation as a Way of Life” featuring George Lewis and Arnold I. Davidson , professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, will be held Thursday February 9, 4:30 pm  at The Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley. 

The concert and lecture are part of Spontaneous Sounds , which kicks off a new Improvisation Series presented by the Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities. Both events are free and open to the public.

“Spontaneous Sounds is the first chapter in the Newhouse Center’s semester-long interdisciplinary exploration of improvisation,” says Carol Dougherty, professor of classical studies at Wellesley College and director of The Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities. “What's unique about this series is that it isn't just about overlapping performances. The series creates an intersection of creative expression and critical inquiry and enables audiences to experience music, art, and intellectual exchange in a way that can only be done at Wellesley."

Programs at the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College combine the creative experience with critical academic inquiry. In this tradition, a lecture titled “Improvisation as a Way of Life,” featuring musician and scholar George Lewis and philosopher Arnold I. Davidson, will occur Thursday, February 9, the day before the concert . Lewis and Davidson will discuss the relationship between musical improvisation and ethical philosophy—between humans and machines, musicians and their instruments, improvisation, social responsibility, and agency suggesting that improvisation is not limited to the artistic domain but, rather, is an important aspect of everyday life that can lead to new models of intelligibility, ethics, and social transformation.

During the concert on Friday, February 10, Iyer will perform on a traditional nine-foot Steinway, Lewis on trombone, and the “Voyager” will play along using a Yamaha disklavier. This performance brings two well-known musicians together for a non-traditional, cutting-edge performance unlike any other.

“The artistic lineup for the series is fabulous, and in each case, the artists who are eloquent about their own creative practices are paired with brilliant scholars, who we feel are especially creative in the way they approach their fields,” said Martin Brody, professor of music at Wellesley College.

About the Lecturers/Performers

Vijay Iyer is one of the most acclaimed and respected young American jazz artists today. He received the Musician of the Year award in the 2010 Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards, the 2010 Echo Award (the “German Grammy”) for best international ensemble with his trio. His trio album Historicity was named the #1 jazz album of 2009 by The New York Times , the Chicago Tribune , the Los Angeles Times , National Public Radio , the annual Village Voice jazz critics poll, and the Downbeat International Critics Poll. In the past decade, Iyer has won the Downbeat Poll in multiple categories, the JJA Jazz Award for Up & Coming Musician of the Year, the CalArts Alpert Award in the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and numerous composer commissions. The Village Voice called Iyer "the most commanding pianist and composer to emerge in recent years." The New Yorker said he is one of "today's most important pianists... extravagantly gifted," and L.A. Weekly described him as "a boundless and deeply important young star." In 2010, The Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards named him “Musician of the Year,” an honor that has previously been given to Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, and Dave Holland.

George Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002, an Alpert Award in the Arts in 1999, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Lewis studied composition with Muhal Richard Abrams at the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music School of Music, and trombone with Dean Hey. A pioneer in computer music, Lewis’s work as an improviser and composer includes electronic and computer music, computer-based installations, and notated and improvisative forms, and is documented on more than 140 recordings. His groundbreaking Voyager performance system was developed in the mid-1980s, and was one of the first systems that had the ability to “listen” to a live performer and create a musical response in real-time.

Arnold I. Davidson is the Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, and the Divinity School. Executive Editor of Critical Inquiry, he is also a director of the France-Chicago Center. His major fields of research and teaching are the history of contemporary European philosophy, the history of moral and political philosophy, the history of the human sciences, and the history and philosophy of religion. He has been a visiting professor at many French institutions (including the Collège de France, the École Normale Supérieure, the University of Paris I and the University of Paris VII) and has also been Professor of the History of Political Philosophy at the University of Pisa. Beginning in 2013, each spring he will be Visiting Professor of the Philosophy of Cultures in the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage at the University Ca’Foscari of Venice.

About Wellesley College

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,400 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 75 countries.

Press Contacts

Anne Yu, Assistant Director, Media Relations, Wellesley College, , 781-283-3201
Sofiya Cabalquinto, Director, Media Relations, Wellesley College, , 781-283-3321