Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mesmerizing Vistas and an Intriguing Visit from Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Thursday night at the Miller Theatre, chamber ensemble Either/Or delivered a rapt, riveting performance of recent works by hauntingly individualistic Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir as part of Miller director Melissa Smey’s eclectically fascinating Composer Portrait series. To characterize Thorvaldsdottir’s work as stillness punctuated by agitation is overly reductionistic, but that’s part of the picture. Her austere, earth-toned vistas often evoke the work of both Gerard Grisey and Henryk Gorecki, but with an even more stripped-down focus. The ensemble opened the concert with a site-specific work, the American premiere of the new 2013 piece Into – Second Self with kettledrums to the right and rear of the audience as well as onstage with twin trombones, a smaller drum kit perched on the left balcony, horns in back. It was tremendous fun, in the best way a surround-sound piece can be, but grounded in Thorvaldsdottir’s signature juxtaposition of quiet and disquiet. Close harmonies from the trombones hovered and lingered, the drums’ simple rhythmic motives leaping from one unexpected corner to the next, sometimes abruptly, sometimes with a droll touch, sometimes menacingly.

One, from 2008, a duo piece for piano and percussionist, worked an Art of Noise spy movie minimalism, pianist David Shively alternating feverishly between the keyboard and the inside of the piano, long resonant tones giving way to a walk or two, harplike versus sustained timbres steady and then reaching a calmer plateau. In this story, the spy slips away.

Ro (“serenity” in both Icelandic and Chinese) seemed sarcastic early on as the strings and low winds bustled apprehensively before it reached a similarly calm plateau and remained there, lush and enveloping. Tactillity, for percussionist and harp, featured Zeena Parkins snapping menacing, spaciously placed low notes that anchored ambient washes from bowed crotales, developing to a pointillistic series of what seemed to be loops, stately and steadily rippling from Parkins’ custom-made electric harp. The concert concluded with the full twenty-piece chamber orchestra playing Hrim (Icelandic for the transformation of ice crystals, or, in British English, hoarfrost), from Thorvaldsdottir’s debut US collection, Rhizoma, from last year. It was the most animated piece on the program, swirls of glissandos from the reeds and gusts from the brass interchanging with an insistent, occasionally menacingly percussive drive that alternated jarringly with the calm atmospherics.

Following the intermission, conductor Richard Carrick led an enlightening Q&A with the composer. Trained as a cellist, she embraced composition fulltime when she realized that she “could not live without writing music.” As cellists tend to, she finds comfort in the lower registers, a trait that resonates throughout her work. Her compositions do not specifically depict nature but are influenced by it and its patterns. The process of composing for her involves a lot of pre-composition, “dreaming on the music,” as she put it. While she notates her scores, she only does so when a piece is ready to go. She doesn’t compose on an instrument: the music is all in her head until it hits the staves. There’s also an aleatoric component to her work, no surprise considering how much extended technique is required to play it. The Composer Portrait series at the Miller continues next February 22 at 8 PM with Ensemble Signal spotlighting the works of Roger Reynolds.

December 9, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strange and Powerful Sounds on the New Keeril Makan Album

Composer Keeril Makan’s intriguing and diverse collection of works, titled Target, has been out for awhile on Starkland. Minimalist yet often absolutely massive, the pieces follow dramatically divergent trajectories. The instrumentals rise and fall, sometimes almost imperceptibly but occasionally explosively, the percussion of the Either/Or ensemble and David Shively featuring most prominently in the arrangements. There’s also a potent and politically spot-on suite of vocal pieces utilizing text which poet Jena Osman created from propaganda leaflets dropped into Afghanistan during the Bush Regime’s invasion. It’s a good bet that listeners with the sense of adventure necessary to fully enjoy this album will scatter these tracks throughout several different playlists, considering the differences between them: with its whirring overtones, the half-hour concluding piece, Resonance Alloy makes a great choice for a chillout mix, while the abrasive, keening, sometimes howling solo cello piece Zones d’Accord has the opposite effect.

The opening track, simply titled 2, is the only one of the instrumentals where the melody moves around to any great degree, and that’s only when the marimba comes in bubbling against Shively’s cymbals and Jennifer Choi’s violin atmospherics. On the other hand, the title suite of five skeletal yet sharply rhythmic songs has singer Laurie Rubin leaping in and out unpredictably, the perfectly unwavering, staccato outrage in her voice channeling the mystified shock the Afghanis must have felt as they read how Bush’s bombs falling out of the sky were just one more example of how the U.S. was there to help them. Makan and Rubin, and the ensemble California E.A.R. Unit deserve props for bringing these important works to life so evocatively.

Perhaps because it’s a scrapy, raspy piece, Zones d’Accord is recorded very quietly – so when it suddenly grows loud, it’s jarring. If that’s the effect the composer wanted to create, cellist Alex Waterman delivers that extremely successfully; however, those with headphones should be on alert. It’s definitely a wakeup call! The first track follows an elegant, mathematical architecture with the occasional allusion to jazz before finally collapsing on itself at the end in a splendid display of violence; the last is viscerally mesmerizing. How Shively managed to stay on track and maintain its perfect, pointillistic pulse without being hypnotized by the swoosh, and hum, and eerie whine of the overtones flying from his cymbals and gong is a genuine feat. Did he record this in segments? Are there overdubs? It’s impossible to tell. While the brushstrokes fall fast and precise, the swells from atmospheric to oceanic are almost unnoticeable until suddenly it’s apparent that the waves have risen and then come crashing in with a stately intensity.

October 11, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment