At the Y

Exploring Music, Bending Genres on The Bridge

Part rock opera, part contemporary ballet, The Bridge combined the talents of the BYU Jazz Ensemble; Fictionist lead singer, Stuart Maxfield (above); and local dancers. Photo by Bradley Slade.

The de Jong Concert Hall’s stage is dark but tinted in a deep indigo, faint shadows gathered on both sides. Dressed in a black turtleneck and slacks, Stuart B. Maxfield (’08), front man of alt-rock band Fictionist, stands on a platform, mic in hand, face glowing from a dim spotlight. An atmospheric synth melody spills from the speakers and melds with Maxfield’s haunting vocals.

Off to the left, BYU’s Jazz Ensemble, lights on their music stands twinkling like constellations, breaks into a dizzying interlude. Smoke begins billowing from backstage and two dancers appear—a man in Civil War–era garb and a woman with a billowy top and skirt. Loose-limbed, they fluidly emerge onto the stage and clasp hands. Soon two additional dancers, dressed as Union soldiers, ambush the man and loop a noose around his neck.

On Feb. 10 BYU premiered The Bridge, an abstract, genre-bending musical collaboration that “hover[s] somewhere between a rock opera and a contemporary ballet,” says Andrew J. Maxfield (BM ’06), a classical composer and Stuart’s brother.

The brainchild of the Maxfield brothers and J. Mark Ammons (BMU ’85), assistant director of BYU’s School of Music, the production is based on an 1890 short story by Ambrose Bierce, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a progressive classic that uses stream of consciousness to explore the thoughts of Peyton Farquhar as he is faced with death.

Drawing from the fluid structure of the short story, the 55-minute multimedia retelling unfolds without any dialogue. Stuart conveys Farquhar’s emotions through continuous song—an electronic concept album he composed—and his performance is supported by a live string quartet, BYU Jazz Ensemble, and BYU Jazz Voices. The four contemporary dancers, along with projected scenes and story excerpts, relay the plot.

The production incorporates varieties of funk, hip hop, electronic, and jazz, providing both participating students and the audience a unique opportunity, says Ammons: “It’s important for people to experience music of all kinds, . . . all those things that are part of our musical landscape.”

For the brothers Maxfield, it was an opportunity to “push the musical envelope,” says Andrew, who wrote the lyrics for the show’s 13 tracks.

“It’s been a lot of hanging out, trying stuff, and throwing stuff away, trying something else,” Stuart recalls. “Getting bored, getting excited, getting sleepy, and then starting over again.”

Beyond the music, themes from the story emerge throughout the performance, but they’re subtle. “I would like it to be meditative rather than didactic,” Andrew says. “It’s an invitation for people to think.”

In that meditative vein, as The Bridge’s first official performance draws to a close, Stuart returns to the ambient synth melody he began with. The lights begin to dim, and one by one, the musicians switch off their individual lights—till only Stuart’s remains. And the stage is dark once again.

Download a song from the musical for free at TheBridge-Musical.com.

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