New ensemble says contemporary music is challenging but rewarding

Jan 24, 2019

A new contemporary music ensemble has formed at Interlochen Arts Academy. On Friday night, the group will perform a piece called “Workers Union,” written by Louis Andriessen in 1975.


“I said to the students a while back that listening to this piece from the audience point of view should more or less the same as trying to swallow a pine cone,” says conductor Ara Sarkissian.   

The dissonant sounds of the piece can make it a challenge to listen to, but Sarkissian says this music isn’t meant to be enjoyed like other pieces. It’s meant to be thought-provoking.

“There is plenty to digest from listening to this piece,” he says. “From the title itself, ‘Workers Union,’ and then you hear this ... huge machine just churning out rhythms – everybody in lock and step together.” 

Instead of a melody giving the piece form, rhythm binds it together. Performers have the choice of what instrument to play and the notes to play on it.

“We really are making it up as we go along,” says Max Mika, a junior who’s studying flute.

Because there are so many variables in ‘Workers Union,’ Mika says it’s a unique piece to practice.

“We practice … just saying the rhythm … and keeping in tempo,” he says. “You just have to remember what you’re doing it for and why you’re doing it.”

Sarkissian says they do it because musicians have a responsibility to introduce contemporary music to the world - even if it sounds different.

“What we can do here is engage our audience and engage ourselves to have deeper, more meaningful conversations about what the piece is, what art is, what it should sound like, what it shouldn’t sound like,” he says. “Basically, I think we need to leave the door open big enough so that pieces like this can deservedly be called works of art without it having to be pleasing to the ear.”

The Interlochen Contemporary Music Ensemble performs Friday night. Click here for more information.