The winter solstice is a time of mystery and a moment of hope in the darkened chill of December. The Wires, an alternative string duo, celebrate this promise of renewal with a candlelight concert at Pilgrim Chapel in Hyde Park on December 17.
The concert is a welcome escape from the endless oratorios and commercial jangle of holiday tunes, featuring a mix of Medieval carols and non-sacred, non-traditional winter-themed music, some cover songs and some originals.
The Wires’ music, atmospheric and cinematic, conjures visions. Each song holds a story, whether the sacrifices of motherhood, the majesty of a forest, or the severe intensity of a prairie fire. The wistful strains and dark harmonies of “Zero to the River,” from their first album, bring to mind the stark immensity of giant chunks of ice floating on a frozen current.
Violinist Laurel Parks and cellist Sascha Groschang started the duo in 2009 as a place to express their own creative vision. After graduating from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, they performed in various projects for other people, Groschang in New York and Parks in a rock band. When Groschang moved back to Kansas City, they started gigging together more. “We played all these duo gigs and the music was OK, but we thought we could do something we enjoyed doing better,” said Groschang.
Inspired by the Turtle Island Quartet, the Goat Rodeo Sessions and Gjermund Larsen Trio, they blend folk, world and classical music. “A lot of our songs stem from different places around the world, so we try to take the listener on a journey of some sort, through our own pieces,” said Groschang.
Along with Celtic and American styles, they incorporate tango, gypsy, Scandinavian and Eastern European traditions, some improvisation, a bit of jazz and tinges of atonality. “I’m starting to get into Bulgarian and Peruvian music, which is completely different phrasing and time. There’s always going to be something to draw inspiration,” said Parks.
They use many non-traditional techniques like thick double stops, rhythmic chopping and drone, along with non-Western scales and rhythmic patterns. “We always try to make it sound like it’s not just two people,” she said.
In the summers, they host Creative Strings Workshop to share these techniques, a chance for string players at all levels and ages to explore different ways of music making. “It is more ‘come as you are and enjoy playing’ and less about self-criticism,” said Groschang. “It’s more about the joy of music.”
The Wires plan to release their second album in the spring. Their first project, an eponymous album from 2013, followed standard songwriting structure, but the pieces on the new album are more organic, unfolding in unexpected directions. “We never want to do the same thing, which is going to take us to some pretty interesting places,” said Parks.
The solstice concert is a rare opportunity to hear the duo perform live. Though they have collaborated with video artists, dancers, visual artists and the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, the simple setting offers an ideal atmosphere to appreciate the variety and purity of their rich sonorities, making music a meditative exploration you can disappear into.
The Wires presents “Solstice Candlelight Concert” at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Pilgrim Chapel, 3801 Gillham Rd. For more information, www.thewires.info.
Above: The alternative string duo, The Wires, features violinist Laurel Morgan Parks and cellist Sascha Groschang. (Photo by Forester Michael)