To celebrate this year’s fiftieth anniversary season, Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart charged International Contemporary Ensemble with performing fifty new pieces over the course of the festival. Numbers 45-49 were presented at Merkin Hall on Tuesday, August 23rd. The fiftieth, music by Tyshawn Sorey celebrating Joséphine Baker, was slated for the 24th.
Tuesday’s program consisted entirely of concertos. In some cases, the composers used the term rather loosely, creating amorphously constructed entities rather than the formally distinct works one might expect in the genre. Nearly all were longer than their advertised times: starting at 7:30 PM, the first half alone was ninety minutes. At the concert’s conclusion, we dashed out the door for our train at a few minutes before ten. This loquacity did not always show the works in their best possible lights: all of the composers created fascinating sound worlds, but some tightening of construction would have served several of them well. Karina Canellakis, a prominent young conductor and violinist with an impressive pedigree in both areas, assuredly led ICE. With elegant gestures, she assumed a calming presence amid the maelstroms of complexity being wrought onstage.
The entire program was reordered, but the audience was guided through the changes by brief remarks from the stage by flutist Claire Chase and each of the composers (all four were present — a rare treat). The best piece on the program was also presented first. Marcos Balter’s Violin Concerto displayed formal clarity, abundant virtuosity, and a fascinating use of small percussion instruments (played by the ever nimble Nathan Davis). Violinist David Bowlin played one cascade after another of high harmonics and multi-stops with scintillating aplomb.
In Anthony Cheung’s Assumed Roles, violist Maiya Papach was given a more challenging set-up in which to operate. An unorthodox ensemble grouping, which included several instruments that played in or near the viola’s register and an electric guitar, meant that Cheung had to be judicious in his choice of demeanor for the soloist. He decided to have Papach vacillate between “roles,” working with the ensemble, playing prominently in front of them, and sometimes disappearing beneath their billowing sheets of sound.
The premiere of Dai Fujikura’s Cello Concerto featured a labyrinthine structure. Soloist Katinka Kleijn’s supple tone was challenged by often piercing responses from the ensemble. Cast in a single expansive movement, it was sometimes difficult on first hearing to follow the thread, but several signposts — sections where the cello played open strings and prominent harmonics — helped one to be reoriented.
Wang Lu’s Cloud Intimacy is designed to feature all the members of its ensemble in spotlight moments. It is also meant to be a commentary on technophilia. One heard the tapping of computer keys and ICE musicians got to ham it up with cell phones; the piece ends with a “selfie.” The soloistic aspects of the concerto were less prominently dealt with than the depiction, or distraction, of “Tinder.” However, guitarist Dan Lippel did get a chance to “rock out,” which he did with abandon.
The evening culminated with the US premiere of Fujikura’s Flute Concerto. Written for Chase, it contains many of her signature extended techniques: beat-boxing, multiphonic glisses, harmonics, and pitch bends. It also requires her to employ an array of instruments, from piccolo all the way down to the enormous (and voluptuous sounding) contrabass flute. Interestingly, rather than relying on its strident altissimo register, Fujikura features the underutilized lower register of the piccolo. Cast in five sections, the movement between instruments by Chase helped to delineate the piece’s form. The Flute Concerto has two versions, the chamber one heard here, and another in which Chase is accompanied by full orchestra, already premiered and recorded for Sony/Minabel. The chamber version was plenty for the intimate environs of Merkin Hall and proved to be an ebullient showcase for Chase.
Merkin Hall’sEcstatic Music Festivalkicked off this week with a seven hour long marathon of concerts on Monday. The focus of the festival is on connections between contemporary classical and current indie/pop music. Artists from both sides of the stylistic street are performing. This year, the festival runs all the way until March 28th.
This pop/classical hybridization may not be everyone’s cup o’ joe (John C. Adams has had some less than charitable things to say about it of late), but it certainly is inspiring to a number of composers in their 20s and 30s, and the energy of their work and enthusiasm of their collaborations I finding exciting.
Alas, I missed the marathon, but I’m going to see the Chiara String Quartet, performing works by Nico Muhly & Valgeir Sigurðsson, tomorrow night (review will appear in Musical Americalater this week).
Tonight at Merkin Hall, the Mirror Visions Ensemble is presenting Concert à la carte. Its first half features food-themed works by American composers, ranging from art songs by Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, William Bolcom, and Martin Hennessy to offerings from Broadway tunesmiths Stephen Schwartz and Cole Porter.
But the second half of the concert is where the concept really kicks in. Mirror Visions has commissioned a new work from composer Richard Pearson Thomas. His cantata know thy farmer sets a number of texts drawn from the menus of Blue Hill at Stone Barns Restaurant. The evening also includes an introduction from Blue Hill’s executive chef and co-owner Dan Barber.
Will menus from a sustainable cuisine venue provide good lyrics? Well, Pearson Thomas isn’t the first to pore over recipes for musical inspiration. Bernstein’s “Rabbit at Top Speed,” featured on tonight’s program, has long provided a dose of humor on countless vocal recitals. Here’s hoping that sustainable menus will provide some food for thought, and inspired music-making, tonight.
Concert à la carte Tuesday,November 9, 2010 at 8pm Merkin Concert Hall – Kaufman Center
Tickets for this event are priced at $25/$15 for students and may be purchased by calling 212-501-3330 or by clicking here.
Mirror Visions Ensemble
Vira Slywotzky, soprano
Scott Murphree, tenor
Jesse Blumberg, baritone
Richard Pearson Thomas, piano Harumi Rhodes, violin Alberto Parrini, cello
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I really enjoyed Q2’s broadcast tonight of New Sounds Live, a concert at Merkin Hall by the Bang on a Can All Stars that featured works by Nik Bartsch, Oscar Bettison, Christine Southworth, Michael Nyman, and David Longstreth. The first in a hopefully ongoing series of collaborations between Q2 and Merkin Hall, it was also a featured event in this week’s Composers Nowfestival.
I particularly enjoyed the Bettison work, The Afflicted Girl, in part because it’s quite affecting; but it also helps that I was able to study in advance and follow along with a perusal score sent over by the kind folks at Boosey. Funded by BoaC’s Peoples’ Commissioning Fund, the piece is what Bettison calls an “anti-pastorale.” Its based on a quote from Peter Ackroyd’s London: the Biography. It describes an afflicted girl frequently found in a busy thoroughfare, seemingly oblivious to the cacophony around her. Or, as in Bettison’s posits in his piece, perhaps she found a kind of music amidst the chaos.
Clangor is Bettison’s daily bread: many of his works employ junk metal percussion. The Afflicted Girl involves copious percussion batteries, prepared piano, a keyboard tuned a quarter tone flat, taped echoes of the ensemble, plenty of electric guitar harmonics, and a Shapey-esque scordatura tuning of the cellos C string – down to G for rumbled slackening. What’s more, all the players double on bicycle bells!
Alternately assaultive and contemplative, rhythmically charged and, briefly, eerily reposeful, its a demanding, challenging, harrowing, and memorable work.
Bang on a Can. Photo: Christine Southworth
Sad you missed out on the Q2 broadcast? Fear not: the performance will be featured on a March broadcast of New Sounds.