Floating Downstream and Up with Eve Beglarian
Plenty of artists have found their muse in the Mississippi. About eighteen months ago, composer Eve Beglarian took a camping trek down the entire length of the river, which gave her more than enough inspiration for an entire concert worth of material. Last night’s performance at the East Village’s Wild Project (part of this year’s dizzyingly diverse Avant Festival) was less a suite than a loosely thematic cycle of jawdroppingly eclectic, smartly conceived, relatively short chamber works for voice, violin, piano, electronics and sometimes all of that at once. In a word, wow. As far as emotional terrain is concerned, the pieces in her new Songs from the River collection run the gamut from hopeful, to anxious, to stormy, to blissfully peaceful. Stylistically, as could be expected from Beglarian, they’re all over the place, and so much better for that. She explained that one particular segment mixed New Orleans motifs with plainchant and a little Bach – she could have added “because I can” and everybody in the sold-out theatre would have nodded their approval.
This concert was particularly special in that Beglarian was part of the performance, lending her unselfconsciously warm, uncluttered mezzo-soprano to the lush, meticulously choreographed voices of the Ekmeles Ensemble (Megan Schubert, Rachel Calloway, Eric S. Brenner and Jeffrey Gavett) alongside Ana Milosavljevic on violin and Vicky Chow on piano. The twelve pieces on program shared an attention to subtle timbral details, uncompromising originality and embrace of all available genres. Watchin Beglarian vividly reassert her command of idioms including but not limited to circular choral counterpoint, neoromantic piano, ambient electronics and violin-and-voice ethereality was literally breathtaking and not a little suspenseful: it was impossible to have any idea of where the music would go next. A Hurricane Katrina eulogy of sorts riffed on “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” not as savagely as the Ted Hearne classic, but as it crescendoed and the phrase coalesced in the mix, it was pretty close. A hopeful, unsentimentally bucolic interlude illustrated how where Beglarian expected to find twisted meth-heads, she found a small town (population less than 200) that enjoyed sharing its ice cream instead. The most hypnotic of the segments was an echoey electroacoustic mashup of water flowing over a dam augmented by Milosavljevic’s elegantly minimalistic violin. The most gripping was a depiction of deep-water currents, which Chow made look easy even though its turbulent, forceful ripples were anything but: Water Music for a new century. The most captivating of the vocal passages set an eerily fluttering, disembodied rondo making its way through the upper registers, completely gothic if not particularly southern.
And the tunes were full of simple, impactful hooks! PBS, or the world of indie film are the obvious destinations for a lot of the material on the program. Beglarian may have made a name for herself on the outskirts of the mainstream, but so much of the music on last night’s bill found itself in perfect balance between cutting-edge and catchy. Beglarian’s music is next featured in New York on March 2 at 8 PM at the Church of Saint Matthew and Saint Timothy, 26 W 84th St., with the art song duo Two Sides Sounding performing“A Coney Island of the Mind,” comprising music and images inspired by that Brooklyn neighborhood with music by Beglarian, Gilda Lyons, and Erik Moe and dramaturgy by Kelley Rourke.
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