‘Tis the season of new beginnings, casting off bad habits and (re)committing to good ones for good. More than anything, it’s the thrill of imagining a future brighter somehow than the one you’re in. But actually realizing that future? Not many of us get that far.
Natalie Lin, founder of the intrepid Kinetic ensemble, remembers feeling that first thrill in the fall of 2014, when the 16-player conductor-less chamber group was little more than a thought. A violinist originally from New Zealand, she had just arrived in Houston to embark on a doctoral degree at the Shepherd School of Music.
“Starting Kinetic was very scary and something I never envisioned myself doing,” Lin recalls. “It was kind of ironic, really, because I came to learn how to teach and how to do academia…It was a really exciting change of direction for me, but, at the time, it was just an idea.”
Kinetic launched its first full season in 2015 and has managed not only to survive, but also mature in a way that’s rare for young, new music ensembles in Houston, which often slip off the radar after year one. Benjamin Britten, a composer not often beloved in Houston (Houston Grand Opera cut their Britten cycle short in 2013, replacing it with Show Boat), has happily grown to be a trademark name on any Kinetic program. Since Kinetic’s first concert together, the group has almost completed Britten’s entire cycle of string orchestra work.
“His works are pretty representative of Kinetic’s style,” Lin says, rhapsodizing his musical language and delicate use of string instrument texture. “There’s something about Britten that is very physical when you play it, you can tell he was thinking about the motion—up bows and down bows—that translates really well into a live performance.”
True to form, Kinetic’s upcoming “Inner Voices” concert on January 21 stars Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, which will feature soloists Christopher Bozeka and Robert Johnson on a program with Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Anna Clyne.
“The way that the horn and the tenor interact with the strings is really beautiful, and even though they’re soloists, it really feels like they’re totally part of the ensemble,” Lin says.
Britten’s Serenade marks both continuity and growth for Kinetic. Without a conductor, having a tight ensemble has always been vital—a space where the balance between collaboration and individuality add certain spontaneity to any performance. But Kinetic couldn’t have afforded soloists three years ago, when even the core musicians were volunteering their time.
“That was the challenge in the first year,” Lin remembers. “Every year is scary in a different way.”
To get to a second (and third) season, Lin’s chief focus was figuring out how to grow Kinetic’s budget. A Kickstarter campaign largely funded by out-of-town friends and family initially got Kinetic off the ground, but soon the hype of being new simmered down and Lin had to find a way to make the group sustainable. That meant shifting the support base to Houston.
“That transition is hard, [but] now we’re seeing that a lot of people who support us are Houston locals,” Lin says. “There’s a really amazing community of artists and art organizations.”
Since Kinetic took off in 2015, Lin says she’s enjoyed watching other groups do the same, like the similarly bold new music ensemble Loop38. Looking back, Lin’s advice for anyone pressing on after the shininess of new beginnings fades away is simple.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into or how much work it would take,” Lin says, shaking her head. “But I think for anybody starting something, I think just be determined about the passion that you have and figuring out how to communicate that passion to people around you.”