Music evoking the West often links to the movies of John Ford and John Wayne, complete with rowdy cowboys and swirling señoritas.
Composer Luke Gullickson is taking a more thoughtful approach with “Crossing New Mexico with Weldon Kees and Ray Gonzalez,” his world premiere at the Las Puertas Event Center in Chatter on Sunday, Feb. 24. The commission marks the debut of Chatter’s New Works Initiative. Gullickson will perform the piece on piano with flutist Jesse Tatum and violinist David Felberg.
Now completing his master’s degree in piano at the University of New Mexico, Gullickson was inspired by a poem by Ray Gonzalez. Formerly of El Paso, Gonzalez now teaches at the University of Minnesota.
“I’m really interested in themes of travel and journeys and the idea of travel as a musical metaphor,” Gullickson said.
Originally from Iowa, Gullickson discovered New Mexico as a wilderness guide.
“Trips around the Four Corners area were how I fell in love with this place,” he said. “I envisioned my own journey with these poems in the back of my mind.”
Weldon Kees was a Midwestern poet, painter and jazz pianist who moved to San Francisco before the Beats, he said.
“He was sort of a journeyman artist,” Gullickson said. “Most famously, he disappeared in the 1950s. His car was found by the Golden Gate Bridge, and his body was never found. I’ve written how it’s a metaphor of how artists disappear in to their work. The idea of disappearing is haunting.”
Gullickson also will play Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid,” arranged for solo piano by composer-conductor Lukas Foss.
“Billy the Kid” is a story of the American West, setting a grim tale of murder and vengeance against the open prairie. The music uses six cowboy songs as part of the work, still venturing into modernist compositional techniques, such as polyrhythm.
The Copland classic forms a stylistic bridge to Gullickson’s own work.
“There’s this depiction of the West and the landscape,” he said. “I think a lot of people who moved to the West were inspired by that.”
This week’s poet will be Ebony Isis Booth, founder of the African-American multimedia showcase Burque Noir and Honeysuckle Creatives.