Dr. Andrea Cheeseman was the featured artist for the second Arts NOW! Series concert. Directed by Dr. Rodney Waschka and supported by North Carolina State University’s Arts Studies Program and the Interdisciplinary Studies of the College of Humanities and Social Science and the Department of Music, Arts NOW! features cutting-edge work by contemporary composers. Cheeseman represents a rare group of artists dedicated to this purpose: collaborating and bringing new music to the public while making it accessible. The concert took place in the Titmus Theatre in Thompson Hall and featured works by Thomas Clark, Kimmo Hakola, Traci Mendel, Nikola Resanovic, Mark Snyder/ Andrea Cheesman, Kirsten Volness, and Rodney Waschka II.

The program was intriguing. From Thomas Clark’s fabulous “LIGHTFORMS 2: Star Spectra” (1993) to Traci Mendel’s meditative Landscapes: Series IV (2011), every piece made some thematic connection to the visual imagination. After chatting with Dr. Cheeseman, I felt her connection to visual art. She lights up when she talks about her childhood discovery of her mother’s sanctuary, a painting studio. Equally important, the guest artist is a skilled performer with an ability to connect to the audience. And comfortable in her own skin, she has the uncanny ability to slide into the soundscape as if she were physically part of it.

Cheeseman opened with Kirsten Volness’ “Ultraviolet” (2007), for clarinet, bass clarinet, and electronics. In this short duet for human and machine, she responded to the recorded wave-like music like a swimmer in water. And making dynamic contrasts with the softness of her breath, I could feel the tensions of the day melt away.

Traci Mendel’s Landscapes: Series IV (2011) begins with a similar affect. Paired with slides made by the performer (scenes of the Blue Ridge Parkway), the mood shifts from the quiet of dawn to powerful images left from the violence of the last ice age. Cheeseman pointed out the composer’s influence by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in the second movement. This lovely piece closes with “Dusk at Thunderhill Overlook.” The last slide showed beautiful blue ridges, capped by a full moon. Extraordinary!

Cheeseman cut loose on Finnish composer Kimmo Hakola’s klezmer-style “Diamond Street” (1999). She captured the celebratory joy with virtuosic licks, slides, and wails; all without fanfare or fuss.

I would be remiss to omit Rodney Waschka’s “A Noite, Porém, Rangeu E Quebrou” (1989), for bass clarinet and tape. Calling for the player’s deepest concentration, the instrumental part is generated in real time. The audience was primed with program notes that conjure the chilling visual image from Tomaz Kim’s poetry, Campo De Batalha. Coupled with Cheeseman’s ability to get into that musical space, I pictured the battlefield from Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s novel set in Afghanistan, The Watch (2012).

Still relevant, but funny, Cheeseman closed with Nikola Resonovic’s delightful “alt.music.ballistix” (1997).

This series continues on January 14. For details, click here.