At Williams College, winter study is a time to make new music in unconventional spaces | Berkshirelandscapes

At Williams College, winter study is a time to make new music in unconventional spaces | Berkshirelandscapes

WILLIAMSTOWN — For the past dozen years, Williams College artist-in-residence and percussionist Matthew Gold has heralded in the New Year with I/O Fest, a celebration of adventurous new music for Williams students and the community at large.

Running Jan. 13 to 15, I/O Fest presents concerts and events across Williamstown at the Clark Art Institute, Williams College Museum of Art and the college’s ’62 Center for Theatre & Dance. The music is performed by Williams students and faculty as well as distinguished guest artists.

“The overall theme of I/O Fest is an opportunity to make music, to bring music to unconventional spaces that’s responsive to what’s around us, and give participants and audiences an immersive experience different than what they would have during the regular year,” Gold, the festival’s director, said during a phone interview. “During Winter Study [a month-long period each January when Williams students choose a single subject area to explore], when we’re outside of the regular context of things, we have time to really focus, to open our ears to new things. We bring in performers and composers and work that sets the tone for the new year.”

The festival will open on Friday, Jan. 13 at WCMA, beginning with a group sonic meditation in the galleries for anybody who comes by, Gold said, followed by performances, pop-ups, sound art — “a whole range of things” — over the course of the afternoon.

“There will be student compositions, and a work by Pulitzer Prize-winner Raven Chacon, a really fascinating composer. We’ll do a work for a turntable with a record played with skewers with microphones on them, and a piece by Myriam el Haik for four toy pianos. There will be music and sonic interventions throughout the galleries, transforming [WCMA] into a musical space.”

An evening concert at the ’62 Center CenterStage by I/O Ensemble will include works by composers Sarah Hennies and Katherine Balch, as well as by students.

Also at the ’62 Center on Saturday, Jan. 14, the student group New Music Williams will perform “Penelope,” an evocative 60-minute song cycle based on “The Odyssey” by Sarah Kirkland Snider, for a solo female voice and chamber orchestra, featuring Sara Stebbins.

“This is a huge project for them, it’s semi staged with lights,” Gold said. “It will be a really dramatic event, it’s a very powerful piece.”

The festival showcases a different visiting group each year. For 2023, the guest ensemble is GEORGE, a quartet founded by six-time Grammy-nominated percussionist and composer John Hollenbeck, longtime collaborator with new music pioneer Meredith Monk.

In addition to Hollenbeck on percussion, the ensemble is made up of Anna Webber on tenor sax and flute; Aurora Nealand on voice, sax and keyboards; and Chiquita Magic, who plays keyboards and sings. “It’s two winds, keyboard and drums which is a really unique sound,” Gold said.

“It’s a brand new group. They had their first performance this past March, and people were just raving about it,” he added. “This new project of his is really exciting.”

“They have an album called ‘Letters to George’ [where] each composition is dedicated to a different George,” Gold explained. “It began with George Floyd and the powerful emotional response John had to that, but also George Washington Carver, Georgia O’Keeffe, a whole range of Georges.”

This culminating concert Sunday, Jan. 15, 4 p.m. at the Clark is the festival’s only ticketed event.

Earlier that day at the Clark at 1 p.m., GEORGE will participate in the I/Out Loud interactive family concert, an annual festival highlight.

“My students and I will take part in one of [Hollenbeck’s] compositions called ‘Flock,’ it’s an open instrumentation work based on the movement of birds,” Gold said. “And we’ll lead the kids in an exercise with that as well.”

For the first time, the festival will include a film screening, the 2018 documentary “Full Mantis” about Milford Graves, shown at the Clark during the afternoon of Jan. 15.

“Milford was a great percussionist and composer and musical innovator who taught at Bennington College for many years,” Gold said. “He passed away in 2021.”

“This film presents the musical world and process and vocabulary [of] an extraordinary foundational artist we should know more about. The director Jake Meginsky will take part in discussions about the film and his life and work.”

Gold created the multi-day music festival back in 2010 with late faculty member Steven Bodner and then-music department chair David Kechley. The college’s landmark ’62 Center had just opened when Kechley approached Gold and Bodner.

“He said, ‘we’d like to do something in the black box theater different than what we do in our own space’,” Gold recalled. “That’s pretty much all we needed to hear. Using unconventional spaces has always been really important to me. And we just ran with that.

“The ’62 Center is an incredible space to work, but being able to go out to WCMA and the Clark is a means of connecting with the public in different spaces and places where they might not expect to hear music. It’s interacting in a different way, listening to a museum instead of just looking at it.”

The title, I/O Fest, recalls both one of Jupiter’s moons and the idea of Input/Output, Gold said.

“It’s two weeks at the start of the year when we immerse ourselves in this music and plan different kinds of events in different spaces. It’s about taking in everything around us — the music, spaces, culture, people we’re working with — and at the end of the process the music comes out.”

The festival, Gold said, “aims to create experiences for audiences and musicians that are immersive, participatory, thoughtful, engaging, often challenging, nonconventional experiences of live music. That’s really what it’s about. And bringing people together to share in this experience.”


What: I/O Fest 2023 — three days and nights of the music of now

Who: Williams College department of music

When: Jan. 13-15

Venues: ’62 Center for Theatre & Dance, 1000 Main St., Williamstown;  Williams College Museum of Art, 15 Lawrence Drive, Williamstown; Clark Art Institute, 225 South St., Williamstown

COVID-19 Policy: Masks required.

More information: 


Admission: Free except as noted. Masks required. 

Full listings:


Noon to 4 p.m., I/O Ensemble at WCMA: I/O pop-ups and interventions all afternoon in the galleries. Music by Raven Chacon, Myriam el Haik, Kazuo Fukushima, and Williams students.

7:30 p.m., Friday CenterStage: I/O Ensemble performs adventurous new music from the edge of tomorrow at the ’62 Center.


4:30 p.m., Film screening at The Clark: “Milford Graves Full Mantis,” a 90-minute documentary on avant-garde jazz percussionist; discussion with director Jake Meginsky

8 p.m., “Penelope” at CenterStage: New Music Williams presents “Penelope,” a 60-minute song cycle by Sarah Kirkland Snider, featuring Sara Stebbins and chamber orchestra in the ’62 Center’s CenterStage Theater.


1 p.m., I/Out Loud Family Concert, featuring GEORGE: New Music performs a family concert with I/Out Loud, Kids 4 Harmony, and special guest GEORGE. Concert is in the Michael Conforti Pavilion at The Clark. Gallery admission is free. 

4 p.m., GEORGE in Concert at The Clark: Genre-crossing jazz and new music ensemble GEORGE, featuring composer and percussionist John Hollenbeck, performs music from their forthcoming album “Letters to George.” Tickets required. $5, general admission; $3, Clark members; $2 for students and under 21.