Typical NYC Concert Moment: A Brilliant Program by Under-the-Radar Ensemble Mise-En
To anyone who might be cynical about music in New York: you don’t get out enough. Last night at the Tenri Cultural Center in the West Village, Ensemble Mise-En played a richly eclectic, entertaining and often transcendent program including two world premieres and a US premiere which should have happened long ago. This adventurous, relatively young (average age: guessing mid-20s), mixed winds/strings/percussion ensemble put together a program that puts to shame most of the bills taking place in the high fifties and mid sixties in this town most days of the week.
The evening started on an auspicous note with Irish composer Karen Power’s Cold or Hot Bean Slurper for chamber orchestra with guest conductor Mark Loria out in front of the ensemble, where he would remain for the second piece as well. One might see the title and think Chinatown noodles: au contraire, this brought a richly dynamic sense of fun, vivid timbral contrasts and a long, apprehensive upward arc to music that put a lively spin on the spectral sounds coming out of IRCAM in the mid-80s.
Eric Lyon‘s sarcastic punk classical suite Noise Variations for chamber orchestra was next on the bill. The title was sarcastic as well. It actually wasn’t particularly noisy – rather, the ensemble brought an often cruelly sardonic feast of close harmonies and parodies of classical tropes, from a twisted spoof of Beethoven’s Diabelli variations, to a LOL-suspenseful Waiting for Godot To Play the Next Motif interlude, to a coldly and richly satisfying faux-heroic overture that wound up the piece on an high note – or a low note, depending on your perspective. Either way, it was great fun.
They gave Danish composer Hans Abrahamasen’s Walden Variations a playful, suspensefully bucolic treatment, again mining the space between agitation, or just plain motion, for all the suspense and potential laughs it was worth, throughout this otherwise vividly verdant, subtly rising and falling tone poem.
The concert ended up on a riveting, Shostakovian note with South Korean composer Isang Yun’s 1988 Distanzen for Wind Quintet and String Quintet, a New York premiere. Yun spent prison time after being nabbed by the South Korean gestapo for his 1967 jaunt to the north of the country, and the horror of his experiences resonated throughout the uneasy, often chililng, semi-horizontal work. Ali Jones’ raw, fiery cello intro, Nicholas Walls’ surrealistically echoing, ominously sostenuto horn and the potently moody insistence of Ben Thomas’ bass propelled this haunting, brilliant work to a lush swell that hit a shiveringly agitated swell before a chilly, ethereally calm, not altogether safe conclusion. All in all, it was a triumphant performance including but not limited to ensemble members flutist Domenica Fossati, oboeist Stuart Breczinski, clarinetists Diego Vasquez and Jinju Yeo, alto saxophonist Kevin Baldwin, bassoonist Jack Chan, horn player Nathaniel Center, trimbonist Tyler Vahldick, pianist Dorothy Chan, subtle percussionist Clara Warnaaar, violinists Sabina Trojosjan and Hanjal Plvnick, violist Sam Kelder and maestro Moon Young Ha, confident, inspired and understatedly intense on the podium. Brilliant programs like this are all over the place in New York, but you have to look for them. Ensemble Mise-En plays their next show on May 2 at 8 PM at the Cell Theatre in Chelsea with music by Bent Sørensen, Erik Lund, Louis Karchin and Moon Young Ha.
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