Brazil’s Camerata Aberta Plays a Stunning Program at SONIC
The SONIC Festival, a weeklong marathon of indie classical/new music performances, continues through this Saturday, winding up with a free performance by the American Composers Orchestra at the World Financial Center at around 7:30. Last night at the Americas Society, Brazilian new music ensemble Camerata Aberta treated a sold-out audience to a challenging, eclectic program that may well have been the highlight of the entire festival. If the Brazilian composers represented on this bill are typical of the new-music scene there, it’s time for American fans of this stuff to pay attention.
The show began on a jaunty note with Carlos Freitas on trombone and Pedro Gadelha on bass, playing the world premiere of Igor Leao Maia’s Caminantes III. A comedic piece that evoked the ordeal of trying to start a car with a rapidly dying battery, its unfinished swoops and dives and “fail” motifs were thoroughly amusing. Pianist Lidia Bazarian played Tatiana Catanzaro’s Kristallklavierexplosionschattenspliter (say that three times fast), contrasting icy, minimalist upper-register incisions with drones and roars created by striking or brushing the piano strings. On one hand, it was something any kid could have done…if that kid had remarkable patience and an ear for getting the max out of long sustained notes.
Joao Victor Bota’s Zenite, performed solo by violist Peter Pas, made vivid use of harmonics as it began bracingly atonal, then more rhythmically and consonantly and then back and forth, with the hint of a dance and more than one tongue-in-cheek joke. Marcilio Onofre’s powerfully evocative Estudo Sobre Os Arrependimentos de Valasquez was inspired by the famous painter’s brush-over technique, where he’d correct his mistakes, only to have those mistakes reappear as the repair work faded over the centuries. Charles Augusto held the center with potently dramatic percussion, whether on marimba, kettledrum or otherwise while the full ensemble took turns adding incisive accents, sometimes with a brooding, furtive call-and-response, against a drone or sustained drum tone. Frequently, the effect was organic versus mechanical, bucolic versus urban, as if to say, maybe those mistakes should have been left as is.
The most transcendent piece on the bill was another world premiere, Lan, by Valeria Bonafe, featuring all but the viola and percussion. Building from a somber bass/piano intro, it crescendoed with a creepy inevitability and highly sophisticated architecture, timbral contrasts, and an absolutely noir, circular motif that Bazarian grabbed solidly and imbued with a lurid neon glitter flecked with major-on-minor menace. It’s a suspense film theme – opening and closing credits included – waiting to happen.
The American composers on the program did not fare quite as well. A Matthias Pintscher solo trumpet tune played by Adenilson Telles had the misfortune of following the Bonafe, leaving the listener pondering questions like when it would end, or what jazz rhythm section might have been able to elevate its halfhearted, hastily minimalist bop-isms to the level of something meaningful (maybe Art Blakey and Jaco Pastorius, who might have bludgeoned it into something even less recognizable?). And while Clint Needham’s Color Study – a New York premiere, played by the whole ensemble plus Ken Thomson on alto sax – got off to a slow start with warped New Orleans jazz allusions, it eventually picked up steam and morphed into smartly counterintuitive variations on bustling, noirish motifs that the group passed among themselves with considerable relish.
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