Next week, a concert by the New England Conservatory's Contemporary Musical Arts department will take audiences back 100 years to a pivotal point in music history.

The concert, simply called "1923," will celebrate that year's innovative compositions and recordings and will feature performances in a wide array of musical styles from around the world.

From the brilliant explorations of American composer Henry Cowell to the first woman tango singer Rosita Quiroga to Mongolian soundscapes, the concert will show how even a century ago, music was engaged with world events and technological innovations. "1923's" curator and director Anthony Coleman spoke about the concert with GBH's All Things Considered host Arun Rath. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: What was special about the year 1923? Starting in America, because I know you go around the world, what was going on that formed the soundscape at that time?

Anthony Coleman: When we were brainstorming the ideas for what we were going to do as concerts, we always threw a lot of things around. Jazz had been recorded since 1917, but in 1923 were the first recordings of what we acknowledge as the first real masterpieces of jazz, particularly from King Oliver and Bessie Smith and Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis Armstrong made his first recordings in 1923 as a member of the King Oliver Group. This led me to be interested in what was going on in other kinds of music at the time.

When we started talking about doing this concert, I looked into what were some of the things that were happening in contemporary classical music, if you want to call it that, at the same time. So many of the things were not just innovative, but innovative in ways that we still think of as being innovative now, 100 years later. For example, unusual uses of instruments, like the way that Edgard Varèse was engaging with percussion instruments that reflected everyday life, like the lion's roar and the sirens. All of that was, at the time, very controversial.

Nowadays, people still talk a lot about if a piece that includes street sounds or, like in the case of Cowell, playing inside the piano and getting different ways of approaching sound. When I was reading about that, I was thinking that I still go to concerts that do these kind of things that are billed as experimental music and I found that really funny. I started thinking, 'Well, it was already experimental 100 years ago. So, that might be an interesting thing to talk about or to look at in a concert.'

Rath: Those jazz recordings you're talking about, they can still give you a chill listening to them with how modern they they sound.

Coleman: Absolutely. One of the beauties and the terrors of our department is that nobody just plays what you put in front of them. Not that any great musician does that. So, if anybody's listening and they're a concert violinist and they think I'm saying that they just play what is put in front of them, of course, I'm not saying that.

Interpretation is an enormous part of all music, but the thing about our department, because it's so multifaceted in terms of where people are coming from, people have very different backgrounds. We have people from all over the world. We have people who come from a background where they've been reading music from the beginning and people who are just starting to read music now. So, whatever we throw at them, they're going to interpret.

They're going to bring themselves very much to the table, so these links between the chill that you're talking about in the 1920's, we're trying to make that happen. We don't even have to try, but we make those as explicit as we possibly can.

Rath: You mentioned Henry Cowell, the American composer, getting inside his piano. You're being literal there, right?

Coleman: Yes, playing on the strings and working a lot with clusters of notes.

Rath: Are we hearing some of that in this concert?

Coleman: We are planning on it. Everything is magically very last minute, but let's say yes.

Rath: I think Henry Cowell would like that.

Coleman: I hope so.

Rath: So, this was an interesting time, but how was it also pivotal in terms of affecting or anticipating what was present?

Coleman: If you agree with the thesis that jazz is America's greatest contribution to world music, which, you know, is one of those great sentences—it sounds really good, but you could look into it a little bit.

I mean, if that's the case, jazz went from being a music, which, if you want to say it went from being like a pure, more like entertainment music, to music where its reach would be so broad that 100 years later we're still developing the jazz tradition, I think you can see that in those early pieces, like "King Porter Stomp" by Jelly Roll Morton. Any of the records that King Oliver set in stone in "Dippermouth Blues", the whole idea of how a solo develops, how you use multi choruses of the same form to develop on a longer level.

And, of course, Bessie Smith, who is like the mother of so much of the music that we still hear now, as is Louis Armstrong.

So, if we just talk about jazz, it's really easy to see how it was a pivotal year. In any other music, it was pivotal, like the introduction of sounds, because it's also when Arthur Honegger's "Pacific 231" was released.

It was really interesting to see that that was the same year as the Cowell pieces and the and the various pieces because Honegger thought of as being a more conservative composer. But that was the first piece to bring, like, train sounds directly into the concert. That fascination with technology was hitting a certain kind of apogee or pinnacle at that moment. Honegger was working in Switzerland, France, so all around the world, people were starting to think about those things and how to incorporate them into music.

Rath: The concert takes us not just through time, but around the world. How do you decide what to include in terms of some of the non-European and non-American soundscapes that we hear?

Coleman: That's a really great question and to really develop the answer would take way longer than we have. Let's just say that the department is really driven by the people who are in it at any given time.

Of course, this can change and it would be really unfortunate to want to do a concert like this and not be able to have representation. In order to have to include music from other parts of the world, we'd need the dreaded word of today, to appropriate.

But at the moment, we have a lot of students from... Well, for example, a student from Uganda is organizing a performance of “Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika," which Nelson Mandela later decreed that it should be embraced as the national anthem of South Africa. It's gone back and forth between being the official or unofficial anthem of several different African countries. The student brings the authenticity of his experience to that.

There's also two radically different pieces that engage with Chinese culture, and that comes from our students. We have meetings, we talk about, "Well, this is our theme. What does it make you think? What does it make you want to do? "

We have an Argentinean student who's been engaging with tango in a really direct way in what she does anyway, so she was investigating the world of tango, and it turned out that the first woman tango performer to record, recorded in 1923.

Rath: All of that is so fascinating. I had no idea that that Pan-Africanism and that kind of African nationalism was brewing 100 years ago like that.

Coleman: It's always a big learning curve for me as well, what people bring to the table. The great thing is I feel more like I just throw out the information and then it just goes literally out of my hands and my only job is to just make sure that everybody shows up, that the pieces are rehearsed, and that we're ready to get into Jordan Hall when we need to get in there.

Rath: Brilliant. It has been such a pleasure talking with you about this. Thank you.

Coleman: Thank you so much.

"1923" will be held at the New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall at 7:30 on Tuesday, November 14th. The concert is free but requires reservations.