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Kansas City Cellist Makes 'Alien Voices' With Her Bow

Cellist Sascha Groschang is no stranger to new music. Since 2009, she's performed with the alternative strings duo The Wires. But in a collaboration with the contemporary chamber ensemble, newEar, Groschang says she's found herself pushing the boundaries of music, sound ... and noise.

This weekend, Groschang performs German composer Helmut Lachenmann's "Pression," (1969-'70), written for solo cello. It's been described "as a live object, as performance, action and embodiment."

At first, Groschang says she didn't like it. "I thought, 'Oh, this just sounds like noises.' But now, the more I'm getting used to it, the more I'm getting to know it," she says. 

Here are some highlights of our interview.

On a composer as a pioneer of shaping sounds:

"(Helmut) Lachenmann was one of the pioneers of this style of music where you were using sounds as music. Traditionally, when you think of the cello, you think, ‘Oh, I’m going to make beautiful, gorgeous sounds with the bow,’ but in this piece, you’ll hear things that I think sound like wind, or zippers, alien voices."

"I have a student who is from Korea and she just gave me some tea she said was called 'baby bird tongue.' And I think of this one section as sounding just like like baby bird tongues. So you hear all these different sounds that you would never, ever hear on the cello and it just makes you think about sound in a whole other way." 

On getting used to striking the instrument:

"Sometimes I actually have to hit the cello with the bow and that’s the part that freaks me out the most. So every time I play the piece, I kind of look at the cello and think, 'Are you OK?' So far, it’s been all right, so I think I’ll make it, but fingers crossed."

On thinking about sound in a new way:

"He’s made this really interesting piece of music just combing these sounds that would probably mostly be accidents. I think it’s been a lot more challenging than I thought because originally it just seemed like, 'Oh, this is a bunch of noises. No big deal.' But actually, they are precise noises and he is very clear about what he wants. I think I’m just surprised about how difficult it is to make it sound natural."

"I’ve actually played it for a lot of my traditional music friends who don’t play new music. And some of them are like, ‘Really why?’ It’s challenging to listen to in a lot of ways unless you have a really open mind."

newEar presents Helmut Lachenmann’s‘Pression’ with works by Lansing McLoskey, Eun Young Lee, Robert Carl, and KaijaSaariaho, on Saturday, February 21 at 8 pm, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut Street, Kansas City, Mo. 

The Artists In Their Own Words series is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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