Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jay Campbell Plays an Insane Show at Columbia

Cellist Jay Campbell characterized his program last night at Columbia University’s Italian Academy as “kind of insane,” and he was right on the money. Campbell, winner of the Concert Artists Guild’s 2012 competition, keeps a very busy schedule and seems to gravitate toward contemporary repertoire. This concert seemed to be an opportunity for him to blow off some steam. The bill started somewhat haphazardly with the world premiere of Jonathan Dawe‘s Cello Sonata, with Stephen Gosling on piano. On one hand, its architecture is clever, taking the sonata concept as we understand it today back two hundred years by giving the lion’s share of activity to the piano rather than the cello. On the other hand, the way it constantly veered between classical harmony and the twelve-tone system was jarring, as motive after motive flashed by. It never really had time to coalesce.

Jason Eckardt’s Flux, with Campbell joined by flutist Eric Lamb, began with the feel of a jazz improvisation, albeit one without the kind of sputtering and scraping you might expect from the pairing of these two instruments. It came together subtly and artfully as the duo intertwined and exchanged voices.

The piece de resistance was the New York premiere of Salvatore Sciarrino‘s 1981 composition Vanitas: Still Life in One Act, Campbell teaming with Gosling and soprano Sharon Harms. It goes on too long, becomes interminable and repeats itself practically ad nauseum, but that seems intentional: this twistedly creepy, glacially slow, sardonic punk classical piece is as funny as it is menacing (and brutally difficult to play!), and the audience loved it. Does any other work exist which requires the cellist to spend so much time playing fractions of an inch from the bridge? 95% of the cello score is harmonics, but Campbell was up to the challenge, through a droll, endless call-and-response with Harms, whispery sustained accents punctuated by long, pregnant pauses and the occasional rise to whiplash agitation or icily spinning circular phrases delivered with icepick precision by Gosling.

Both the pianist and cellist managed to keep a straight face, although Harms couldn’t, no surprise since she got the bulk of the work’s silliest moments, her stentorian, declamatory phrases trailing off into a quasi-yodel. Sciarrino’s incessant use of microtones and slides make it even more difficult for a singer, but Harms nailed it, to the extent that you can nail something as slippery as this. And when the time came about midway through where it seemed that the composer realized that a horror film soundtrack of sorts was within reach and then went for it, more or less abandoning the tomfoolerly, the effect was viscerally chilling. At least until Campbell’s long, slow, deadpan downward slide at the very end, the sonic equivalent of a tracking shot panning the horizon at a dead crawl as the sun slips under. He’d never heard the piece prior to playing it, grinningly explaining it as “a lot stranger than I had expected.” Here’s to having the nerve to tackle it at all, let alone with such deviously purposeful command.

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May 8, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The American Composers Orchestra Plays It Unsafe

The American Composers Orchestra has taken to doing what the New York Phil has, offering recordings of their concerts online – and why not? Their Playing It Unsafe program at Carnegie Hall from February, 2009 with Jeffrey Milarsky conducting is unselfconsciously accessible, yet much of it is cutting-edge, and the ensemble turns in a characteristically inspired performance.

The concert opens with Anna Clyne’s Tender Hooks, percussive swirl with distant martial allusions eventually giving way to a suspensefully punctuated tone poem. From there, the orchestra methodically drives to a crescendo with piano and percussion, followed by an eerily starlit little piano waltz that quotes liberally from the Moonlight Sonata – and ends cold, mid-phrase. With echoes of John Williams or Gustav Holst, Charles Norman Mason’s Additions is an austerely staccato, marionettish dance bookended by water-drip percussion. Dan Trueman’s Silicon/Carbon: An Anti-Concerto-Grosso begins with a seemingly unrelated allusions to Appalachian fiddling and then offers spaciously horizontal, Uranian ambience punctuated by occasional percussion and bell-like tones, a handful of crescendos to restart the suspense and a clever rhythmic tradeofff between the percussion section and the entire orchestra toward the end.

Overture and Ballet Music from Armide, by Jonathan Dawe works disconnected, overlapping passages that in places seem to parody generic classical crescendos and percussion breaks, hinting at florid but never going there. There’s a jarring vocal interlude that does nothing to enhance it, but the “passacaille” that closes the work vividly sets a multitude of matter-of-fact phrases entering the picture and then disappearing in turn rather than stepping all over each other, a trick from the world of dub reggae. The final piece, Ned McGowan’s Bantammer Swing features his own contrabass flute for some intriguing tonalities. Like the Clyne and Trueman pieces, it’s cinematic, the most suspenseful work here. The first movement moves steadily and pensively up and down; the brooding andante sostenuto of the second is the most gripping part of this album, sheets of noise finally rising ominously as the brass exchanges uneasy flutters. It ends on an unexpectedly playful, genuinely funny note with swooping motifs, a couple of jagged bass solos and a fun little rondo to wind it out. The whole album is streaming at instantencore, a very smart marketing move since a listen all the way through is the best advertisement this entertaining performance could possibly have.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment