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 AME’s Star Crossing – Film Noir for the Ears

You know the “ping” moment in a horror or suspense movie where suddenly everything that had been going smoothly suddenly hits a bump…and then it’s obvious that at some point, terror will set in? This is a whole album of those moments. The American Modern Ensemble’s new album Star Crossing: Music of Robert Paterson is a noir film for the ears: for fans of dark, suspenseful music, this is heaven. Paterson is a percussionist, so it’s no surprise that bells, crotales and other brightly ringing instruments are featured here along with flutes and clarinets, piano and cello working contrasts in the lower registers.

The opening mini-suite, Sextet, traces the trail of a criminal on the run – even in his dreams. As expected, it doesn’t end well. Through volleys of furtive footsteps, hallucinatory nightmare sequences, frozen moments of sheer terror and endlessly echoing, apprehensive flute cadenzas, the poor guy doesn’t have a prayer. The Thin Ice of Your Fragile Mind is hypnotic, warm and starlit, tantalizing bits of Romantic melody – and even a jaunty dance – interwoven with eerie bell tones. It’s something akin to the familiar comfort of a radio fading in and out in the midst of a wasteland. The title track is an offhandedly dazzling display of creepy, chilly Hitchcockian ambience, sepulchral woodwind flourishes and simple, seemingly random piano motifs against disembodied ringing tonalities. Although it’s meant to evoke an otherworldly, outer-space milieu, the tension is relentless. Embracing the Wind, an attempt to evoke various sonics created by air currents, has an uneasy, allusive Romanticism in the same vein as the second track here, but considerably creepier.

It’s only fitting that this album should include a requiem. Elegy for Two Bassoons and Piano is a homage to bassoonist Charles McCracken’s cellist father, drawing liberally from one of his favorite pieces, Bach’s Fifth Cello Suite. Like its ancestor, it has a murky poignancy, but it’s also unexpectedly lively. Skylights, an attempt to make airy music with dark-toned instruments, magnificently evokes noir dread througout its nine-plus minutes: somebody kill that light before somebody gets killed! Paterson plays marimba (using both mallet heads and handles simultaneously) on the final work, Quintus, a bubbly, polyrhythmic maze that eventually takes on a grim boogie-woogie tinge. The album as a whole features lively and acerbic playing by Sato Moughalian on flutes; Meighan Stoops on clarinets; Robin Zeh on violin; Robert Burkhart on cello; Matthew Ward on percussion; Blair McMillen, Elizabeth DiFelice and Stephen Gosling on piano; Danielle Farina on viola; Jacqueline Kerrod on harp, and Gilbert Dejean and Charles McCracken on bassoons. Count this among the half-dozen best releases of 2011 so far, in any style of music.

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