A Lively, Intriguing John Zorn Premiere Uptown
Any opoprtunity to see cellist Fred Sherry and violinist Jennifer Choi share a stage is a bound to be a treat. And as much as the Stone is a wonderful place for many reasons, it was good to see John Zorn off his home turf and making a trip uptown to the Miller Theatre Tuesday night- in the role of roadie for the allstar cast playing the New York premiere of his new suite, Apophthegms and then his 2011 string quartet The Alchemist.
It would be overly reductionistic to describe the suite as a series of agitated cadenzas separated by bracingly airy atonalities, often punctuated by acerbic pizzicato accents, but that’s the basic shape most of them take. With Zorn’s persistent use of high, pianissimo harmonics, they’re also cruelly difficult to play, but violinists Christopher Otto and David Fulmer were game, bravely working the loud/soft dynamic for all it was worth. Acidic close harmonies dispersed into the ether; flurrying staccato passages built to the point where it seemed that one or maybe both musicians were going to break strings when they (literally) hit the pizzicato. Toward the end, an unexpectedly warm consonance gave way to creepy noir allusions, one of the few place where one of Zorn’s standby tropes made an appearance. Another Zorn standby is humor, and here he pretty much waited til the end, where the duo took a series of wry microtonal slides up to a jaunty, spiky coda.
For the quartet, Fulmer switched to viola, joined by Sherry, Choi and violinist Jesse Mills. Like the suite, it works a bustle-versus-stillness, frenetic-versus-calm dichotomy much of the time. Much as its tonalities are modern, it has distant echoes of late Beethoven and also Bernard Herrmann, especially early on where a particularly slithery line from Choi was anchored by Sherry’s creepy stalker bassline, generating grins from both of them. Quiet microtonal sostenuto introduced a romp punctuated by pregnant pauses, more reptilian noir and finally an unexpected triumph: they’d found gold after all, and calm after that. It was a workout – Zorn employs as much of the sonic spectrum as exists, in order to get gold from lead, but the alchemists onstage dug in and delivered.
This was the final “pop-up” concert staged at the Miller this year. Some of these shows are impromptu, last-minute affairs, sometimes not (this wasn’t). Keeping a close eye on the theatre calendar is your best bet to stay on top of them. Oh yeah, the concert was free, and there was beer and wine too! Shhhhh…don’t tell a soul!
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