by ANDREW NISSEN
First-Year GD Trombone
If you haven’t met Steve Drury yet, I suggest you do so as soon as possible – he’s a fascinating person! An NEC graduate himself, Steve joined the piano faculty after completing an Artist Diploma as a student of Patricia Zander. In addition to teaching and soloing, he serves as director of the renowned Callithumpian Consort and director of NEC- based Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice.
Steve has worked with many of the big players in music of the 20th and 21st centuries, including John Cage, Helmet Lachenmann, Christian Wolff, Chaya Czernowin, and Lee Hyla. However, he also enjoys collaborating with non-musicians. Notably, Steve performed with choreographer Merce Cunningham, John Cage’s partner, in 1999– the last time Cunningham ever danced in public. Drury played Cage’s Music for Marcel Duchamp while Cunningham and Mikhail Baryshnikov danced a duo around the plastic boxes Jasper Johns designed in tribute to Duchamp.
“Cage would write a new piece for Merce, they’d agree on how long the piece was, and that was it,” Drury recalls. “They’d show up for the dress rehearsal and Merce was hearing the music for the first time. I asked Merce if he had made choreography to go with the phrases [for the performance in 1999] and he said “No, no.” In fact, I was a little worried because I was on stage at the New York City Theater and I didn’t want to be on there using music for a simple little piece. But the memory is tricky and I thought if I had a memory slip it would throw them off.”
Not just content as a soloist, Steve is the founder and director of the successful NEC-based group Callithumpian Consort. Callithumpian Consort is filled with former NEC graduates, some of whom have also participated in Steve’s summer festival at NEC – SICPP. Both Callithumpian the group and Steve the soloist have several engagements down the road at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum throughout the season.
Along with his wife, Yukiko Takagi, Steve is pioneering an interesting new concert series called In and Out Monday Afternoons at the Gardner’s impressive Calderwood Hall (editor’s note: the Gardner is only a 15-minute walk from NEC!) This was the brainchild of museum curator Scott Nickrenz, the husband of NEC faculty member Paula Robison. Calderwood Hall consists of a perfect cube with a flat floor, in which the stage forms the center of the cube with rows of chairs along the walls on the floor and two elevated balconies above. This unique design will allow museum-goers to slip in at any point in the performance, “hopefully quietly,” Steve reminds, and stay anywhere from five minutes to two hours. Drury’s former teacher in New York, William Masselos, used to give similar concerts for hours on end. “He would put a note in the program that said ‘Ingress, egress as you please,'” shares Drury, “and the idea for In and Out is essentially the same.”
At an In and Out concert in the coming spring, Steve and Callithumpian will be working with Roger Miller, former lead of punk band Mission of Burma. “I wasn’t a punk, but I followed [Mission of Burma],” Steve says. “For me Roger Miller was a legend, so it’s a real trip to be working with him.”
In closing, Steve once again reiterates his passion for contemporary composers: “There’s no reason to assume that there’s not a composer alive today that you feel that you can commit to in the same way you would commit to playing music by Chopin, Brahms, or Haydn…God knows we have enough piano players playing Pictures at an Exhibition. There’s gotta be [a new composer] out there for you. If there’s not, man, get out of music and go be a banker or a politician. Young people are writing the music now, and that’s where my work came from.”