Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Missy Mazzoli’s Richly Tuneful, Restless, Enigmatic Works Take Centerstage at the Miller Theatre

Missy Mazzoli’s music is hypnotic yet stormy, intricate yet disarmingly transparent. A strong and influential contingent of New York new music fans consider Mazzoli to be the most vital composer so far to emerge in this century. Thursday night, the Miller Theatre saluted her with a “composer portrait” concert of her work for both string quartet and for soloists playing along with prerecorded multitracks. As accessible and vivid as Mazzoli’s compositions are, they require all kinds of extended technique and are far from easy to play – although they seem, as a rule, to be fun to play, and the performers reveled in them.

The Mivos Quartet opened the bill with an alternately kinetic and atmospheric favorite from 2010, Death Valley Junction. Lit up with innumerable, graceful swoops and dives – Mazzoli LOVES glissandos – the piece takes its inspiration from Martha Becket, an octogenarian opera singer who achieved cult status for her one-woman shows in a desolate sagebrush town on the California-Nevada border. The group also ended the first half of the performance with a nimble electroacoustic take of Harp and Altar, a joyously bustling, circling homage to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Violinist Robert Simonds played Dissolve, O My Heart, a very subtle, gentle and distantly plaintive theme and variations based on the famous Chaconne from Bach’s D Minor Partita. Cellist Jody Redhage sang A Thousand Tongues, contemplating issues of honesty and believability in a soaring soprano while playing its remotely disquieted, ambered lines against a hypnotic backing track of electronically blenderized Mazzoli solo piano.  Likewise, Violist Nathan Schram got to interact with a backing track of processed viola by Nadia Sirota – with the piece’s clever waves of call-and-response, Schram couldn’t resist breaking into a grin, and the audience was there with him. Soprano Marnie Breckenridge then took centerstage, joined by the string quartet Ethel for His Name Is Jan, a “work in progress,” as Mazzoli put it, moody tectonic shifts anchoring its irresistibly droll, animated arioso vocals. It’s part of a forthcoming opera based on the Lars Von Trier film Breaking the Waves, scheduled to premiere in Philadelphia next year.

Ethel closed out the concert with a blustery yet elegant world premiere, Quartet for Queen Mab, an aptly trippy portrait of a mysterious sprite who spirits people off to a surreal dreamworld. The next “composer portrait” program at the Miller Theatre is Feb 19 at 8 PM with the Mivos Quartet, Yarn/Wire and Ekmeles playing and singing the thorny, challenging music of Stefano Gervasoni. Mazzoli’s art-rock band Victoire are playing the album release show for their intense, richly enveloping, forthcoming cd Vespers for a New Dark Age at le Poisson Rouge at 8 PM on May 7.

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February 7, 2015 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Characteristically Challenging, Entertaining Debut Album from the Mivos Quartet

It’s hard to believe that the Mivos Quartet haven’t made an album until now. For the past few years they’ve been one of the more pioneering new music ensembles in a city full of them, commissioning and premiering material left and right. So it makes sense that the album, titled Reappearances, would be an exciting, ambitious and extremely demanding lineup of works. And the quartet – violinists Olivia De Prato and Joshua Modney, violist Victor Lowrie, and cellist Mariel Roberts – digs in and clearly has great fun with them, even while having to push the limits of their technique. The four pieces here call for mysterious whispers, sepulchral overtones, jarring stccato motives, the quietest washes, microtonal slides and sudden rhythmic leaps, among other demands. Challenging as all this music is, it’s also vividly evocative.

Alex Mincek‘s String Quartet No. 3 probably wasn’t written to evoke a bug machine at night, but it does: a swarm builds and then they all get zapped one by one. That’s overly reductionistic, of course: there’s much more going on. Harsh, almost barking figures enter spaciously; whispery, devillish filigrees, pianissimo ambience spiced with slippery slides and harmonics flit around each other and briefly converse until a theme coalesces about midway through. Individual voices, notably the viola and cello, exchange roles, anchoring the music with a gritty determination. A long crescendo marked by slowly rising washes punctuated by agitated staccato motives builds to a thicket of polyrhythms, then the critters begin disappearing, one by one until there are none.

Wolfgang Rihm‘s Quartettstudie sketches out how to work an idea. Rihm’s signature brooding earthtones engage in a careful, considered call-and-response. An acidic rondo eventually develops with considerably more animation, then the pensive ambience returns. Apropos of the composer, those who enjoy this piece will also like the RIAS Kammerchor‘s recent recording of  Rihm’s similarly enigmatic, more ethereal Astralis, recently released by Harmonia Mundi.

David Brynjar Franzson‘s On Repetition and Reappearances is the album’s most entertaining piece, a nonchalantly spooky if often wryly insectile study in suspense and negative space. Brief, flitting fragments of sound loom in from afar…or seemingly afar. Uh oh, GOTCHA. And then right when it seems that the pianissimo ambience afterward has faded to nothingness, they’re back! It reminds of the uneasy repetition of Erik Satie’s Vexations.

Felipe Lara‘s Corde Vocale, the final work here, is a study in wave motion, built from simple, swooping phrases like comets with the tail first. The way the entire ensemble attacks these, as if using a backward-masked effect, is sonically striking, to say the least. Voices converge and then go off into the ether again; shivery trills unwind into calmer, more resonant phrases; at the end, the ensemble hits an unexpectedly snarling moment on the way to a trick ending. It’s as much fun as the rest of the album and considerably louder.

The Mivos Quartet play the album release concert for this one on Dec 19 at 8 PM at the DiMenna Center, 450 W 37th St west of 9th Ave. $20 cover includes a copy of cd and a reception afterward. The program features premieres of works by Mark Barden, Dai Fujikura, and Scott Wollschleger, plus the Lara piece from the album.

December 17, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jay Vilnai’s Shakespeare Songs: Dark Otherworldly Intensity

Jay Vilnai may be best known as an eclectic, intense guitarist and connoisseur of gypsy music. He’s also a formidable composer, most recently reaffirmed by his new collection, Shakespeare Songs, a setting of six Shakespeare texts sung with counterintuitive relish by soprano Gelsey Bell over the often downright creepy strings of the Mivos String Trio. Much of this is sort of a missing link between Rasputina and Bernard Herrmann.

The Mourning Song from Cymbeline matches an austerely aching string melody to soulfully apprehensive vocals. Set to a stately, insistent rhythm, it’s a brooding reflection on mortality, with just enough bracing atonality to give the dirge a genuinely creepy otherworldliness. The second cut, To Dream Again is a vignette anchored by stark lo/hi contrast between cello and violin. Sigh No More (from Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene 2), a slow waltz fueled by pizzicato cello, has Bell adding a strikingly melismatic, soul-inflected quality: she gets the max out of her occasional flights as it builds with understated counterpoint and hints at vaudeville. Rather than “converting all your sounds of woe,” as the Bard suggests, the song plays up the pain of the past, with a deliciously creepy outro.

There’s also a wry humor here, particularly in Behind the Door (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene 1), its clever mimicry, ghostly ambience and ethereal overtones making a marvelously nocturnal backdrop for the ghoulish lyric:

Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide
Every one lets forth his sprite
In the church-way paths to glide

It it grows to a march with clever counterpoint and a deadpan horror-movie conclusion. Likewise, I Have Drunk and Seen the Spider, from The Winter’s Tale, Act II, Scene 1 – a Melora Creager-esque spoken-word piece – playfully looks at the power of suggestion. The final track is an operatic take on the old folk song Hey Ho the Wind and the Rain, its shifting astringencies making a marvelously menacing contrast with the blitheness of the melody. The musicianship is understated, with nuanced dynamics by the entire ensemble: Joshua Modney on violin, Victor Lowrie on viola and Isabel Castellvi (also of exhilirating worldbeat string band Copal) on cello. Throughout the songs, Vilnai’s arrangements are strikingly terse and economical, not to mention memorable – indie classical doesn’t get any better than this.

January 14, 2012 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment