Archive for the “Contemporary Classical” Category

In two days, the American Modern Ensemble joins forces with Del Sol, JACK and PUBLIQuartet to tackle a dynamic program of premieres and 21st-century stalwarts involving string quartet. Members of AME will start the evening by premiering Jacob BancksString Theory, for string quartet, and return to deliver premieres of Sidney Boquiren‘s in a mirror dimly, for string quartet and harp, and Robert Paterson‘s I See You for string orchestra and “tape”.

Del Sol will play Chinary Ung‘s Sprial X “In Memoriam”, which violinist Charleton Lee describes as, “a powerful cry for the common people suffering continuing atrocities throughout the world.” Next, PUBLIQuartet takes the stage in advance of their Carnegie Hall debut to play founding violinist Jessie Montgomery‘s work Breakaway and JACK will perform John Zorn‘s The Dead Man. Finally, the evening will close with all the players retaking the stage to perform John Luther AdamsDream In White On White.

The concert takes place a SubCulture this coming Thursday at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 the day of the performance. More information about the program and purchasing tickets is available on SubCulture’s Website.

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camillaNext to the early and unlikely appearance of Mr. Eliot’s cruelest  camellias, the most anticipated January event for many of us wintering in the Low Country is the arrival (in the other mailbox out by the street) of the annual printed Spoleto USA program. For those of you who may not know much about it, Spoleto USA is one of the world’s major arts festivals–bigger and better, for example, than the annual summer Lincoln Center Festival, whose programming is similar.  It is safe to say that Spoleto USA has been a key factor in making Charleston, SC–also blessed with great winter weather, gloriously inventive southern cooking, and Bill Murray–the biggest little city in America.

We have the composer Gian Carlo Menotti to thank for that.  He founded the festival in 1977 as a counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy.  Over the early years, budgets were overrun, deficits mounted, philistines were elected to the board.  There were the usual artist vs. accountant hissy fits and Menotti bailed for the good in the mid-1990s. The philistines and the angels have generally played nicely together since with the result that the programs are still excellent and finances are much more stable.

The program for the 17-day, May-June festival are a combination of classical and jazz music, dance, theater and a curious category  called Physical Theater, which features the kind of tumbling, and acrobatic circus sort of dance, sort of not dance that I thought had disappeared with the Ed Sullivan Show.  But, apparently not.

Not sure who to credit (I suspect John Kennedy) but there is also an especially generous amount of new music to heard each year.  The featured opera this year is the world premiere of Huang Ruo and Jennifer Wen Ma’s opera Paradise Interrupted, featuring Qian Yi. May 22, 24, 27, 29, 31.  And they’re also doing Huang’s  The Lost Garden Chamber Concerto on May 23.   There’s a conversation about the opera with Huang and Wen at the Charleston Library Society on May 24.

Bank of America sponsors a great series of 11 Chamber Music concerts which are usually sprinkled. with a healthy dose of music by composers who are still, more or less, breathing.  This year’s composer-in-residence is Mark Applebaum, who will be premiering a piece. The St. Lawrence String Quartet will celebrate its 20th year of Spoleto USA residency.  Alisa Weilerstein will be there.

Joe Miller’s Westminster Choir Concerts at St. Luke’s and St. Paul usually pair old and new works.  Urmas Sisask’s Oremus and Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine join Montiverdi’s Si Ch’io vorren morire and the opening chorus of Bach’s Cantata 79 on May 24 and 27.  David Lang’s marvelous The Little Match Girl Passion, with choreography by Poitus Lidberg, is scheduled along with Giacomo Carissimi’s Jephte for May 30 and May 31.

The Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, directed by John Kennedy, will do Bill Morrison/Michael Gordon’s Decasia (that old thing–just joking, just joking) on June 1.  Kennedy is also directing a great-looking series of concerts called Music in Time that features the aforementioned Huang Ruo, Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata , Hans Otte’s concert-length piano suite The Book of Sounds, an evening of new commissioned works by Christopher Cerrone, Anna Meredith, Adrian Knight, Timo Andres, Nicole Lizzee and Samuel Carol Adams and–finally, for the hardcore–an evening called Quarter-Tone Shredding featuring the Living Earth Show, San Francisco’s electric guitar and percussion duo–performing Damon Waitkus’ North Pacific Garbage Patch, Brian Ferneyhough’s Renvoli/Shards, Ken Ueno’s WATT and assorted other stuff.

I’m sure I missed some things so take a look at the online program, get yourself some tickets, and get on down heah.  You heah?
.

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New Series

ECM’s New Series has been producing classical releases of highest caliber since 1984. As the German imprint quietly celebrates its 30th anniversary, these words attempt an affectionate survey of its output. Then again, how does one delineate a history of that which is so much a part of it? Jean-Luc Godard addresses this very question in his Histoire(s) du cinéma, of which the soundtrack saw a New Series release in 1999 and from which this essay borrows its title. The parenthetical “s” of Godard’s masterwork serves not merely to hinge the singular and the anural, but to unravel the multiple, simultaneous registers of the filmic medium—moving, as it were, from an “either-or” to a “neither-nor” approach. A film breaks down not only into individual frames, but also into molecular compounds within those frames, until signs of the original become nothing more than the breath expended to describe it. Similarly, the New Series vision, under the watchful ear of producer Manfred Eicher, has for three decades programmed music as if it were a field of signs that live among and within us, each an ephemeral capture that begets infinite others.

The New Series bears no discernibly overarching aesthetic. Just as ECM proper has diversified the pasture of jazz with flowers of stark variation, so has the New Series loosened the borders of the classical landscape through democratic enhancements of technique, instrumentation, and concept. Indeed, the success of the New Series vision has grown in direct proportion to its inclusivity, even as it has refined an idiosyncratic corpus of composers. If one can say that Eicher has brought a classical sense of detailing toward the jazz-oriented records that earned him first renown, one might also say that he brought to classical recording a feeling of jazz, insofar as whatever spirit animates the improviser with unquantifiable purpose also thrums like a shell around every classical recording worthy of the ECM moniker.

Inception of the New Series traces back to 1980, when Eicher first heard Arvo Pärt on the radio. Not knowing what it was, he searched for quite some time before connecting those angelic sounds to a name that would define the label to come. In its role as the first New Series release, Pärt’s Tabula rasa is said to have introduced an ancient world to a new sound. And yet, it would be just as accurate to say that the album introduced an ancient sound to a new world. In other words, it wasn’t the newness of Pärt’s music that turned the album into such a watershed moment. It was, rather, its resonant heart, to which listeners across genres and affiliations found immutable connections, points of relatability, and glimmers of familiarity in its starry sky. Such an interpretation existed already in the name: New Series. As for the “new,” one finds it in the recordings and performances. The word “series,” on the other hand, connotes linkages between past and future tenses in an unbroken chain of influence. Like the single line that underscores the label’s logo, it’s a horizon, either side of which brings innovative possibilities to the old, and old possibilities to the innovative.

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Hey Composers! It’s that time of year again, when the ever-intrepid Marvin Rosen climbs into to the saddle for a LONG trip through today’s music; 25 hours of music by composers like — well, like YOU! But if you want to jump on the wagon, you need to get Marvin a recording by December 15th, so pick your tushies up and move!

………..

the 10th Live Marathon (9th devoted to 21st century music) curated and hosted by Marvin Rosen, host of the award-winning program Classical Discoveries, and presented on WPRB, Princeton NJ at 103.3 FM or on line at: www.wprb.com

The title of this year’s radio extravaganza is “24 HOUR PLUS – VIVA 21-ST CENTURY” and will start Saturday, December 27th at 2:00pm (EST time) and will go nonstop live until 3:00pm on Sunday, December 28th, and yes, this year’s Marathon will run like last years did – 25 hours.

This year Marvin is requesting composers to send him recordings of works completed between 2010 – 2014.

Only recordings on CD (no MP3’s, no downloads) will be accepted and must be received by Marvin no later than Monday, December 15, 2014. The maximum length of each work submitted should be no more than 15 minutes. All private recordings must have good sound quality and released for radio broadcast by the owner of recording (a statement from submitting person is sufficient).

(Marvin knows that in today’s time many music transactions are done via downloading etc., but since he has a full time job, as well as other volunteer duties, the recording submission process has to be done as conveniently for Marvin as possible.)

If you are interested in being part of this crazy annual new music marathon please e-mail Marvin directly for more instructions at: requestformarvin@gmail.com

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The gulf between pop music and “serious” or “new music” can be a big one, and the first concert of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players 2014-15 season TenFourteen set this in high relief. Put another way, the pleasure principle tends to be the guiding light in pop music which isn’t always the case with new music which often tries to be dark or “profound”, or as my late friend Virgil Thomson once observed ” composers look at the history of music as leading up to them,” so it may as well be “heavy.”

George Crumb is an obviously gifted and highly regarded composer whose place in music history seems secure today, and his SFCMP’s commissions “Yesteryear “( 2013 ) and “The Yellow Moon of Andalusia ” (2012) were strong entries in his catalogue. The first was compact and mysterious with sudden eruptions of violence from extra busy percussionists William Winant and Nick Woodbury, and impressive contributions from Kate Campbell on amplified piano, and soprano Tony Arnold whose vocal text was a singularly dull fragmentation of Francois Villon’s eponymous poem. The second, which continued Crumb’s vocal/ instrumental settings of the poems of Garcia Lorca, which began with his landmark 1970 “Ancient Voices of Children” had a wonderful, timeless sense of space, and was beautifully realized by Arnold and Campbell, though his 1962 “Five Pieces for Piano ” came off as a stale and unmotivated codification of new techniques — playing within the piano — which were novel and exciting when Cage first used these gestures.The young Lebanese pianist-composer has absorbed this now common performance practice into his own work which is always vital because, though he’s very cerebral and knows the standard piano rep backwards and forwards, he doesn’t write “thinking” but emotional music.

And speaking of thinking Georges Aperghis’ solos “Recitation 9 ” and ” Recitation 10″ ( both 1977-78) , though perhaps trying hard to be a sort of emotional breakdown ala Artaud’s “La Peste”, which Nin recorded in her Diary, came off as “thought” music, despite the obvious complexity of the writing and Arnold’s spectacularly engaged performance. It was like Gertrude Stein without her wit and gift for multiple /ambiguous meanings.

Things didn’t get much better in Elena Ruehr’s SFCMP commission written for clarinet, violin, cello, harp, guitar, and percussion “it’s about time” (2014) which sounded superficially “pop”, meaning accessible, but didn’t add up to much despite the players’ obvious enthusiasm for its quasi classical-baroque sound and SFCMP’s Steven Schick’s alert conducting.

Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz’s 2014 SFCMP four-movement commission “Corporea” was dedicated to her country’s diplomat Gilberto Bosques Saldivar, who helped save thousands of Jews, exiles from Franco’s Spain, and those escaping the Third Reich, from certain death. It had a welcome but unforced gravitas and lightness and seemed to easily inhabit both the pop and new music worlds. Solidly grounded in colorful yet expressive popular gestures — think Revueltas, or Julian Orbon — yet classical-modernist in layout and content, with a very affecting yet contained third movement adagio. And the audience which was more or less forced to sit on their hands for most of the concert rose to their feet and gave it rapturous and much deserved applause.

You don’t have to wear a hair shirt to be “serious. ”

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Just a little “heads-up” —

This coming Tuesday, November 25, The Center for Architecture and The Institute for Performance Sculpture will be presenting an inter-disciplinary program that looks interesting.

Architect/composer Chrtistopher Janney and bassist/producer Bill Laswell will join forces with  Sara Rudner (choreographer), Sunny Hitt (dancer), and an assortment of acclaimed musicians including vocalists, percussionists, and a turntable artist. The performance, entitled Exploring the Hidden Music, will endeavour to “make architecture more physical, and to make music more physical.” The details are attached below. Seems intriguing, especially for those who are interested in the crossing and mixing of artistic media.

 

DATE:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014; 8PM

 ADDRESS:

Gramercy Theater

127 E 23rd St.

New York, NY 10010

Tel: 212.614.6932

http://venue.thegramercytheatre.com/

ADMISSION:

$25

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rv20On Tuesday November 11, 2014 Piano Spheres presented a concert by Richard Valitutto entitled NAKHT. The venue was the RedCat performing arts space at Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles, and the 275 available seats were mostly filled to hear an evening of solo piano nocturnes. This was the first major recital by Richard Valitutto, who is a member of several leading new music ensembles that appear regularly throughout the city.

The concert opened, appropriately enough, with Nocturnes (1929 – 38) by Francis Poulenc. Five nocturnes were played from this piece and the first of these, No 1 in C major, began with a warm and welcoming feeling and reflecting, from time to time, just the slightest tinge of regret. This piece gracefully unfolded with an accessible beauty. The acoustics in the hall were good and Richard applied a sensitive touch to the flowing melody line and its stately ending. The second movement, No 5 in D minor, has a much quicker feel, like a group of children running about inside a large house. The subtitle of this nocturne translates to “moths” and perhaps this accounts for the lively feel. The fast runs and rapid rhythms were accurately and precisely rendered while at the same time allowing the playfulness of the music to come through.

Other nocturnes from Poulenc were variously slow and stately with an introspective feel, sophisticated and engaging, like a group of friends out on the town or dramatic and expressive. The last nocturne, No 8 in G major, was softer and more reserved, almost church-like in its solemnity, but with a certain uplifting sensibility. All these Poulanec nocturnes were played with an ease and smoothness that highlighted a sense of openness and warmth.

The second piece in the concert was as above, so below (2014) by Richard Valitutto and this occasion was the world premiere. Some adjustments were required; the music rack on the piano was rotated allowing access to the strings within. As above, so below began with the plucking of isolated strings – with those in the higher registers sounded with a bell-like purity and were left hanging nicely in the air. The lower notes produced more of a clanking sound, but this made for a good contrast. The listener soon became accustomed to the use of these extended techniques, and as the piece proceeds they become a normal feature of the sound palette. Eventually notes were struck from the keyboard and this registered as a more percussive sound compared to the lovely sustained pitches of the plucked strings. A dialogue unfolds between the two sounds as the piece gradually develops into a quiet, meandering mystery. It is like a nocturnal wandering inside an old house while hearing the chimes of a grandfather clock. Based on the lunar cycle and “..simple canonic procedures like those we hear in Renaissance and Baroque music” as above, so below has a more flowing, introspective feel than its underlying structure might suggest, resulting in a pleasing level of thoughtful reflection.

Due Notturni crudeli (2000) by Salvatore Sciarrino was next and the first movement Senza tempo e scandito started with a series of strong, pounding high notes followed by a pause, a short passage and then a repeat. This became a steady, march-like pulse as the piece progressed, broken only by rapid runs that skipped down the keyboard. The feeling was quite unlike a traditional nocturne and was more reminiscent of an automaton caught in some perpetual factory process. Intimidating and impersonal, this movement only turned softer towards the end as it slowly died away. The second movement, Furia, metallo, was even more forceful, with loud pounding chords and rapid runs in the middle registers. There were a few quiet stretches but these simply served to reinforce to harshness of the more robust sections. The program notes for this piece state “…the predominating attitude is one of violence and hysteria, examining the dichotomy of disparate gestures and their pugnacious incompatibility.” The playing by Richard Valitutto was skillful throughout and carefully attuned to the strong emotions present in Due Notturni crudeli – the cruel nocturnes.

After a short intermission La chouette hulotte (1956-58) from Catalogue d ‘oiseaux, 3 Livre by Olivier Messiaen began with an ominous feel, like walking outside into the inky blackness of a cloudy night. Changing rhythms and running passages ensued, with a building sense of uncertainty and tension. The title of this piece translates to Tawny Owl, and is part of the Messiaen series of piano works that focus on birds and bird calls. He writes about this piece: “Darkness, fear, the heart beating too fast, the meowing and barking Little Owl, the cries of the Long-Eared Owl, and then there is the call of the Tawny Owl: sometimes gloomy and painful, sometimes vague and disturbing (with a strange tremor), sometimes shouted out in terror like the cry of a murdered child!” All of this is viscerally present in La chouette hulotte; at times Richard Valitutto seemed to be attacking the keyboard and at other times caressing it, artfully drawing out all of the foreboding and drama that is packed into this piece.

Next was a work by Aleksandr Skryabin, Poem-Nocturne, OP 61, (1912) and this began with a light, rolling melody accompanied by warm chords. This is a more traditional type of nocturne and is evidence of very controlled writing – there is a sense of slight tension and of something held back. Skryabin was heavily influenced by Chopin and, as the program notes state: “…during his middle years Skryabin became interested in composing ‘poems’, an appellation he derived from the late-Romantic concept of tone poem. However, unlike those heroic and tragic chronicles, most of Skryabin’s piano poems focus on the ephemeral beauty of a few simple gestures, favoring grace over grandiosity.” The delicate sense of anticipation in Poem-Nocturne approaches impressionism in its simplicity and subdued texture, and the understated feelings were all carefully articulated in this performance.

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The final work of the evening was NCTRN (2014) by Los Angeles composer Nicholas Deyoe, commissioned for this concert by Piano Spheres. For this piece the piano was prepared so that the right-most key made a wooden knocking sound instead of hitting the string to make a note. This simple adjustment became an effective focal point as the piece progressed. Anyone familiar with the music of Nicholas Deyoe would normally expect to hear a thunderous roar from the piano, but apart from a few sharp chords NCTRN was a model of carefully controlled atmospherics. This is surprisingly economical music, with pauses and silences that added to a deep, evocative feel. The knocking sound made by the prepared key produced a keen sense of slowly building anticipation, becoming more insistent as the piece progressed. The sudden ending was the perfect, unexpected finish. The playing was everything NCTRN required – a fine touch with precise control that sustained the tautness throughout. The audience received this performance with sustained applause and cheering.

With artists like Gloria Cheng, Mark Robson, Vicky Ray and others, Piano Spheres has, with this satellite series concert by Richard Valitutto, recognized a new voice for the music of an upcoming generation.

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On October 11, the Oneonta Concert Association of central New York presented an unforgettable concert by Musicians from Marlboro. For half a century, Vermont’s Marlboro Music School and festival have spawned top-flight, ad-hoc ensembles pairing rising stars in classical music with established names in the field. The fact that the name of Kim Kashkashian, one of the world’s finest violists and a tireless champion of contemporary music, was mentioned nowhere in the touring group’s modest marketing package indicated the level of Marlboro’s commitment to apprenticeship. Indeed, despite her unmistakable tone and timbre, Kashkashian contributed humbly to an atmosphere of total and mutual respect.

The program was itself a work of art. Before bows contacted strings, Kashkashian described György Kurtág’s Officium breve as “very gestural and dramatic music.” That it was, for its sparse notecraft nevertheless required of the four string players an uninhibited comportment by which the sounds might freely unravel. The moods of Kurtág’s compendium, written in memory of Hungarian composer Endre Szervánszky (1911-1977), are as varied as their source materials. With characteristically intertextual grace, he references the canon from Webern’s final completed opus (the second Kantate of 1941-43) and works by Szervánszky, the latter not least of all by way of self-quotations from the ever-expanding Játékok (specifically, the bipartite “Hommage à Szervánszky” thereof). The opening harmonics, courtesy of cellist Karen Ouzounian, established a haunting undercurrent that would flow throughout. To this were added the floating lines of violinists David McCarroll and Nikki Chooi before being conjoined by Kashkashian’s peerless tonal qualities. Despite the brevity of its 15 sections, most lasting under a minute, what the piece lacked in duration it made up for in Kurtág’s wealth of invention. Shifting contrasts of altitude, distance, and texture throughout made this sometimes-challenging music feel as organic as rain. Harmonies were elastic, pulled as they sometimes were from a single note in tutti or alit upon from above. The occasional outburst came across not as an interruption but as a catharsis of self-discovery. The ending left us with a drawer of knives, each of varying sharpness and resilience but all bearing the stamp of meticulous smithery.

To this, Szervánszky’s Trio for Flute, Violin and Viola made for a natural follow-up. Enlivened by the virtuosity of flutist Marina Piccinini, alongside violist Wenting Kang and Chooi again on violin, its flowering field carried scents of Bartók, Dvořák, and Smetana. Impressive was Szervánszky’s constant shifting of register, as was the trio’s ability to evoke it. The first two movements, lush and pastoral, were feathered by the veiled Adagio, which gave way to the final Vivace with dreamlike reluctance. Throughout, moods morphed from exuberant to tearful and back again, Piccinini navigating the strings’ crosscurrents with a seafarer’s proficiency. The dance was always waiting—not in the wings but with them, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.

The Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp of Claude Debussy took yet another logical step into 20th-century repertoire. Piccinini, Kashkashian, and harpist Sivan Magen—newly fashioned as Tre Voci—charted the centerpiece of their 2014 ECM New Series release with élan. Debussy’s popular trio, tailored specifically to the idiosyncrasies of its instruments, is divided into three movements with seemingly arbitrary titles. A Pastorale introduces the fluid impressionism one typically associates with the Frenchman. And yet, as this piece’s bold strokes make clear, Debussy was anything but an impressionistic composer. Boldness was especially apparent in the Interlude, the enchanting harping of which only served to emphasize the clarity of its partners. With a strong backbone and even stronger sense of destination, the sportive Finale further proved that Debussy isn’t all sparkles and rainbows. Key to this performance was each musician’s take on the equal role given to her or him. Piccinini was like the writer’s pen and Magen the weaver’s dance, while Kashkashian took on a visual artist’s intuition, her bow as descriptive as a painter’s brush. In a word: exquisite.

Tre Voci
[Photo source: (le) poisson rouge]

Intermission prepared us for the finale of Beethoven’s String Quintet in C Major. Its four-movement traversal of atmospheres showcased the string players at their most integrated. From the massive, seesawing Allegro to the show-stopping Presto (its tight tremolos providing full yet distant support for the violin’s acrobatic exposition), the musicians handled every twist and turn with ease and a unity typically seen only in far more established ensembles. Between these juggernauts, however, were the piece’s highlights. A romantic yet earthy Adagio, its tendrils wavering in freshwater current, paired beautifully with the Scherzo’s delicate anchorage. It was a fitting summation of the dramas that preceded it, spoken in a language at once canonical and freeing.

Also canonical and freeing was the pre-concert performance by Jonathan Fenwick, a high school junior from nearby Ithaca, who presented the Adagio and Fugue of Bach’s Sonata No. 1 for Solo Violin. In addition to polishing the concert’s educational sheen, Fenwick’s performance was further proof of the inspiration absorbed by coming generations of classical purveyors. His sensitive pacing, artful trills, and warmth of execution proved that all roads not only lead back to Bach, but also proceed from him.

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law1The Brand Library in Glendale was the site for an evening of piano music by Steve Moshier on Saturday, October 25. Cynthia Law performed three Moshier pieces, including the premiere of Into the Safety of the Abyss (2014).

The concert opened with Unchained Melody: Eight Bagatelles for Piano (1999) and the first of these began with a series of strong, decisive chords that invoked an important, stately feel The opening passages were repeated in the higher registers, slightly subdued, before returning to the powerful lower chords. The second bagatelle was softer but along the same lines, as if a development on the opening theme. It featured a bit more complexity as well as counterpoint that produced a sense of rolling motion.

Other movements of the Eight Bagatelles for Piano were variously fast and running or featured melody and counterpoint that smoothly changed between the left and right hands. The forth bagatelle, Andante non troppo e grazioso, was perhaps the most characteristically Moshier – starting out slowly but with an exotic feel, turning more introspective with a question and answer dialogue in the passages. The contrast in dynamics in this section were nicely accented by Ms. Law and there were a number of sections that featured well-played counterpoint.

Bagatelle 7 featured a series of light arpeggios that gave a feeling of uplift with a counter melody that contained an elegant, distinguished polish reminiscent of a Beethoven sonata. The final bagatelle started as a fast, irregular series of notes – like code carrying some message. This was accompanied by a series of bright chords that gradually turned warm, followed by some nice syncopation in the right hand. The piece finished strongly in the deep lower registers , recalling the declarative feeling of the opening movement.

The music of Steve Moshier is most closely connected with the Liquid Skin Ensemble and this piano music was recognizably similar, with its precisely regular rhythms and crisp minimalistic repetition. Ms. Law provided an accurate, even reading – exactly what this music requires. The piano filled the recital hall with a big sound that was especially effective in the lower registers.

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gnarw22The friendly confines of Boston Court in Pasadena was the venue for a concert by Los Angeles-based gnarwhallaby on Saturday, October 4, 2014. The quartet appeared complete with their trademark rock-solid playing and black jumpsuits for the performance of six pieces by European and American composers of new music.

The concert opened with Euphorium (1995-96) by the Czech composer Martin Smolka. This featured Matt Barbier on euphonium and Brian Walsh on baritone saxophone. Combined with the piano and cello this produced a wonderfully robust bass line and a big sound that bounced and jumped playfully about. The rhythms were fast, bold and angular with an active feel, like a city at rush hour. The composer describes this piece as follows: “The tempo is breakneck and there are too many notes leaping up and down the entire range and the irregular rhythms in alternate measures remind a maze… The score invites the players to find alien tones. It is full of indications to play out of tune and at times out of rhythm… It is a musical illustration to a Scrap Iron Art Manifesto.” Even so the playing by gnarwhallaby was tight and the irregularities well managed. As the piece progressed the driving rhythms often broke into a satisfying groove and this offered a measure of accessibility amid the split tones and intense textures. The overall feeling was like standing too close to a slightly out of control street band and enjoying the sense of imminent catastrophe. The piece eventually wound down with a quiet trombone solo that trailed off, as if by exhaustion. Euphorium is an exercise in joyful anarchy, accurately captured in this performance despite what is surely a challenging score to play. Read the rest of this entry »

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