Lucid Culture


Gorgeous, Dark Minimalism for Strings, and Free Beer

Last night at the first of the Miller Theatre’s relatively impromptu “pop-up concerts” on this season’s calendar, a program titled Minimalism’s Evolution, Ensemble Signal violinist Courtney Orlando and cellist Lauren Radnofsky played what was essentially karaoke. Much as it’s always more entertaining when all the music at a concert is live, considering how fantastic this particular bill was, the substitution of a laptop for a full ensemble was easy to overlook. Playing to any kind of backing track, whether a fullscale recording or just a simple click, can be maddeningly difficult to do with any degree of soul if the pulse of the music is as mechanically hypnotic as it was throughout much of this set. But both musicians were seamless to the point where it was occasionally difficult to figure out what was actually being played and what was already in the can.

The show opened on an auspiciously apprehensive note with Michael Gordon’s Light is Calling, from 2001, with its uneasy push-pull of creepy bell-like electronics and pensive cello melody. Radnofsky carried it with an airy sostenuto ornamented with judicious applications of vibrato, holding steady and terse as the reverbtoned keyb loop gained presence, the cello finally breaking free in a gently triumphant crescendo.

The duo then joined forces for a series of vignettes from Philip Glass’ In the Summer House, the disarmingly simple, haunting suite that launched a thousand suspense movie soundtracks. What is in this summer house, anyway? A guy with an axe lurking just around the corner, it would seem: through trancey loops of minor arpeggios, neoromantic angst hitched to Bach rhythm and circularity, it was a stalker movie for the ears, the two string players alternating an austere contrast with snakily intertwining harmonies and subtle polyrhythms.

Much of the crowd had come out to hear the US premiere of Donnacha Dennehy’s Overstrung, an enveloping, echoey 2010 work for violin and electronics that looped Orlando’s phrases and spun them back into the mix for extra hypnotic effect. She then played a series from Louis Andriessen’s Xenia, a 2005 work for solo violin, whose bracing tonalities grew grittier as the piece went along, the sound engineer slowly adding distortion to the mix until it was almost as if Orlando was wailing on an electric guitar. Radnofsky closed the show on much the same note as she started with Gordon’s only slightly less distantly menacing 1992 tone poem Industry.

The concept of having the audience right up there onstage with the musicians is terrifically successful: the intimacy level was high without being uncomfortable. One question persists, though: was the Columbia community aware that there was free beer and wine at this concert? Is Columbia one of the schools that still has fraternities? Ordinarily, on a college campus, wherever there’s free alcohol, there are usually hundreds and hundreds of people! Next time around, four simple words will be more than enough: free beer, Miller Theatre.

October 24, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hypnotic, Contemplative New Release from Lisa Moore

Pianist Lisa Moore has recorded an absolutely lovely new diptych by Donnacha Dennehy, titled Stainless Staining, due out momentarily from Cantaloupe Music (the Bang on a Can people). The first part is absolutely hypnotic, very Steve Reich, with perfectly precise, insistently Bach-worthy pedal point interspersed with samples (“played both normally and ‘inside” the piano) that gradually blend together with ringing microtones. The effect, ironically, is an acoustic version of what will happen if you hammer long enough on an upper-register chord on a Fender Rhodes running through an amp with just a tinge of reverb. Just when it seems that – as Mohammed Fairouz recently did, sarcastically – Dennehy is doing the damnedest to avoid any dissonances, some low chromatics emerge just in time to add spice to the overtonal ambience.

The second part was inspired by a video of a person slowly being submerged in water. It’s less ominous than simply murky, as staccato gives way to a sustained bleed of atonalities and finally a surprise ending that’s very effective. The concluding chapter in Moore’s three-ep cycle for Cantaloupe (also featuring works by Don Byron and Annie Gosfield), it’s something that’ll appeal to the Philip Glass crowd as well as anyone who gravitates toward contemplative, atmospherically intriguing music.

July 1, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Isabelle O’Connell’s Dark, Deep Reservoir

Irish pianist Isabelle O’Connell’s new album Reservoir is compelling collection of dark, serious solo pieces by contemporary composers from her native land. It’s a mix of the deceptively simple and the rigorously difficult, performed with a grace and dignity that does justice to the intensity of the compositions. The title track, by Donnacha Dennehy, is particularly gripping. With its incessant quarter-note insistence and interlocking astringent chords, it’s evocative of Louis Andriessen and it’s also obviously very difficult to hold on a steady course. O’Connell meets the challenge with a steely resolve. Big, by Ian Wilson, is a smallscale partita with distant echoes of Brahms, moving from a big chordal introduction to scurrying righthand against an incisive staccato, finally winding out on a hypnotic circular phrase. O’Connell follows that with Jane O’Leary’s aptly titled miniature Forgotten Worlds and its terse, rippling glimmer. Seoirse Bodley’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a spacious narrative, grows from austerely rustic to more lively as the journey through the brush finally reaches its destination.

John Buckley’s Three Preludes gleam with a bracing disquiet, the first a series of methodically paced, off-center arpeggios; the second, an eerie, chromatically-charged waltz; the third more stately and Chopinesque. Three pieces (nos. 10, 11 and 13) from The Klippel Collection by Brian Irvine offer both satirical and straightforwardly Romantically tinged melody as well as a deliciously Satie-esque prelude of sorts. And Philip Martin’s Along the Flaggy Shore is desolately creepy, a spaciously wintry scene that ends with a single note of vocalese – a ghost, maybe?

There’s also some humor here as well. Elaine Agnew’s Seagull is a playful yet dignified salute to the shorebird – it stops and starts but also gazes out to sea with a wistful poignancy, then takes a briskly tense, perfectly executed walk up and down the beach. And Jennifer Walshe’s Becher is a genuinely hilarious pastiche of dozens of famous intros and outros from Beethoven, Scott Joplin, the Verve, Chopin, and perhaps most amusingly, Grieg, who really gets a sendup here as one of his most famous motifs gets sent up the scale and morphs into the Beatles. O’Connell plays the segues absolutely deadpan and absolutely tight – it’s impossible to resist pausing and then rewinding because the jokes are flying by so fast.

December 1, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment