Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mimesis Ensemble Champions Stunning Contemporary Works at Carnegie Hall

If there’s anybody who doesn’t think that the contemporary string quartet repertoire is one of the world’s most exhilarating, they weren’t onstage or in the crowd last night at Carnegie Hall. In a multi-composer bill along the same lines as what the Miller Theatre does, Mimesis Ensemble staged a program featuring works of four current composers – Anna Clyne, Alexandra du Bois, Daniel Bernard Roumain and Mohammed Fairouz – to rival any Shostakovian thrills filling the halls further up Broadway.

These were dark, moody, otherworldly thrills, first from Clyne’s rhythmic suite Prima Vulgaris (meaning “evening primrose”), delivered with verve by violinists Alex Shiozaki and Curtis Stewart, violist Hannah Levinson and cellist Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir. She, in particular, is a player who relishes low tonalities, who’s not afraid to dig in and go deep into the well, taking charge to the point where she was essentially leading the ensemble. Austerity punctuated by pregnant pauses built to hints of an English reel, a long passage that gave Levinson a launching pad for vividly plaintive unease, then a pensive microtonal romp over an ominous cello drone. Tension-packed runs down a memorably uncertain scale set off an increasingly agitated series of variations that ended surprisingly quietly, but no less hauntingly. In its troubled way, it’s a stunning piece of music.

As was du Bois’ String Quartet No. 3, Night Songs, inspired by the journals of Holocaust memoirist and victim Esther Hillesum. As one would expect from a suite inspired by a philosophically-inclined bon vivant murdered at 29 by the Nazis, it has a wounded, elegaic quality. Dread and apprehension are everywhere, even in its most robust moments. It’s less a narrative than a series of brooding crescendos leading to horror, whether sheer terror or heart-stopping stillness. The melody and shifting motifs don’t move a lot, hinting and sometimes longing for a consonance that’s always out of reach. Levinson once again took centerstage with a series of raw chords, setting off a scurrying, pell-mell passage that led to keening overtones and then distantly menacing swoops. Hints of a dance gave no inkling of the considerably different tangent the piece would take as it cruelly but gracefully wound down. The audience exploded afterward.

The program wasn’t limited to string quartets. Roumain was best represented by an intricately woven, lively, dancing, George Crumb-inspired work played by a wind quintet of clarinetist Carlos Cordeiro, oboeist Carl Oswald, bassoonist Brad Balliett and flutist Jonathan Engle, with Jason Sugata’s horn calm in the center of the storm.

Fairouz, who amid innumerable projects is reinvigorating the venerable art-song catalog, likes to collaborate with poets (maybe because his compositions tend to be remarkably terse and crystallized). For this he brought along  poet David Shapiro, whose bittersweet Socratically-themed texts were fleshed out by a septet with strings and flute, strongly sung by soprano Katharine Dain and masterfully lowlit by Katie Reimer’s alternately vigorous and murkily resonant piano. Closely attuned to lyrical content, sometimes agitated, sometimes playful insistent, this quartet of songs seemed to mock death as much as dread it.

Mimesis Ensemble are at Merkin Concert Hall on May 4 at 8:30 PM playing a Lynchian elegy by Caleb Burhans, a cruelly sarcastic take on eco-disaster by David T. Little, powerful and historically aware chamber pieces by Fairouz as well as other works. Advance tickets are only $10 (students $5) and are highly recommended.

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January 25, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deviant Septet’s Boisterously Entertaining Debut

It’s an auspicious sign any time a good band sells out a room. In the case of new music ensemble Deviant Septet’s debut performance Thursday night at Greenwich House Music School in the West Village, a wired young audience found its perfect match onstage. The Deviants’ signature piece is Stravinsky’s L’histoire du Soldat; their raison d’etre is to play that piece and, hopefully, new commissions for unorthodox mini-chamber orchestra. Featuring members of Alarm Will Sound, the Knights and Metropolis Ensemble, Deviant Septet comprises Bill Kalinkos on clarinet; Brad Balliettt on bassoon; Courtney Orlando on violin; David Nelson on trombone; Doug Balliett on bass; Mike Gurfield on trumpet; and Shayna Dunkelman on drums and percussion.

The first half of the performance was the Stravinsky. It’s not one of his major works, but it is a lot of fun. It’s sort of Stravinsky for kids, in a good way: it’s very entertaining. The story, a surreal, wryly Russian update on the Faust myth, was energetically directed by Rafael Gallegos, with Sean Carvajal lending a deadpan, sardonic, hip-hop edge to the character of the soldier, bassist Balliett serving as Greek chorus of sorts, with bassoonist Balliett playing the role of the Devil and Dulce Jimenez subtly developing the role of the Princess from guileless to femme fatale. Interpolating the story within musical passages that pulsed along on the tireless good cheer of the bass (Doug Balliett got a real workout but held up his end mightily), the group shifted amiably from martial bounce, to plaintive austerity, to the bracing astringencies of the final theme where it seems that the composer decided to dig in and get serious. It was the most intense passage, it was worth the wait, and the ensemble took it out on a high note.

The second half of the program began with the world premiere of Dutch composer Ruben Naeff’s For the Deviants. Meant to illustrate another deal with the devil – in this case, concessions to the right wing made by the Rutte administration in Naeff’s home country – it came across as the kind of piece written more to appeal to those who play it than those who have to hear it. Based on one of those circular themes all the rage in new music circles, the ensembled opened together against a drone, then took turns individually sending out bits and pieces of permutations, one by one. Toward the end, there was a passage with some semi-contrapuntal vocalese. Trying to keep her blippy ba-ba’s together, Orlando couldn’t keep a straight face and backed off, a reaction that was as completely honest and appropriate as it could have been.

They amped up the fun factor with another world premiere, Stefan Freund’s The Devil Dances with Tom Sawyer, a mashup of the Stravinsky with the classic rock radio stinkbomb by Rush. That song offers endless possibilities for comedy: Freund chose the high road, rather doing anything with lyrics like “He gets high on you!” and “Catch the spit!” Taking both pieces out of context, the Stravinsky took a backseat to the satire, the group opening it with a deadpan Dixieland feel, trombone playing Geddy Lee’s silly bassline. What became obvious from the first minute or so is what a boring song it is: after giving it a spirited thrashing and having fun rearranging its most hobbity aspects, they let it go. The group finished with Frank Zappa’s Titties and Beer, a funk-metal update on the Stravinsky, sung with sardonicism and soul-drenched relish, respectively, by Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes, Doug Balliett switching to electric bass to fatten the slinky low end. It was a good way to bring the arc of the concert up as high as it could go – and the crowd screamed for more.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment