Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Relentless, Starkly Exhilarating Microtonal String Music From the Apollo Chamber Players and Vanessa Vo

Of all the albums released this year, the Apollo Chamber Players‘ collaboration with Vietnamese dan bau player Vanessa Vo, Within Earth – streaming at Spotify– perfectly fits the zeitgeist. It’s a meticulous yet robust and relentlessly uneasy collection of stunningly acerbic pieces for strings and the elegantly warptoned Vietnamese dan bau. It would not be hubris to call this music Bartokian. It’s easy to read the album as a suite: the short segments and otherworldliness bring to mind the work of the late, great microtonal composer Ben Johnston, the more rhythmic sections evoking Julia Wolfe‘s string quartets. And the slides, and pings, and swoops of the dan bau are the icing on the cake.

The group – violinists Anabel Ramirez Detrick and Matthew Detrick, violist Whitney Bullock and cellist Matthew Dudzik – open the album with Leo Brouwer’s Nostalgia de las Montañas, beginning with deliciously pulsing, disquieting close harmonies, descending to almost total silence, then the cello guides the music upward to a brooding intensity. Subtle microtones invade those terse riffs, raising the angst. The ensemble really embrace that as the music grows more surreal. The second movement balances catchy counterpoint against moments of fleeting terror, starkly airy textural contrasts, and a flurrying disquiet.

Christopher Walczak’s Four Dreams is a triptych. Bullock’s viola adds spiky textures as the first part pulses darkly on the wings of the cello, the rest of the ensemble negotiating the music’s persistent relentlessness, intermingled with subtle, Asian-tinged riffs. Part two is somewhat calmer, more about fleeting exchanges, furtive flickers and simple, direct motives, with a funereal pulse at the end. The final one has similar, more lively counterpoint balanced by shimmery, sustained harmony – but also an siren riff and unresolved bluster.

Vo and Vũ Nhât Tân’s considerly more lighthearted, picturesque epic Cloud opens with keening, lapsteel-like swoops from the dan bau. As the strings behind Vo take a rhythmically staggered, microtonal stroll behind her, the effect is deliciously disorienting. This skyscape takes many shapes: imperturbable wisps dancing above massed grey washes, then the rest of the strings join Vo in a joyous, celestial ballet. Is that a theremin, or just a pitch pedal? There’s a lone cirrus cloud, cumulo-nimbus on the horizon, and a parade of varying shapes passing through the frame, coalescing and then receding. What a strange, fun piece of music!

The album’s final piece is Alexandra du Bois nocturnal tone poem, Within Earth, Wood Grows. The group rise from warm, verdant resonance, bolstered by clarinet, horn and low-key percussion, then recede to starry stillness. The timbres are pure Beethoven, the composition closer to Gerard Grisey. A brief march dissolves in a wash of microtones; a spare, deep-space conversation between oboe and dan bau is one of the album’s most unselfconsciously beautiful moments. What an incredible find!

April 3, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Kronos Quartet at Lincoln Center

If you could see the Kronos Quartet two nights in a row – for free – wouldn’t you? That’s part of the premise of this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival. It was no surprise that the seats filled up early last night for an exhilarating string-driven cross-continental journey that began in Syria and ended in Greece, with flights to Palestine and India in between.

The group opened with a deliciously intense, hauntingly pulsing number by Syrian star Omar Souleyman titled I’ll Prevent the Hunters from Hunting You, a particularly apt choice considering the ongoing revolutionary struggles there. Violinist John Sherba’s nonchalantly sizzling swoops and dives soared against the beat of violist Hank Dutt, who was playing goblet drum, amped up in the mix for a ba-BOOM swing that put to shame any drum machine ever devised. They followed with a gorgeously ambered, austere old Yachiel Karniol cantorial tone poem of sorts, Sim Shalom (Let There Be Peace), a feature for the group’s new cellist Sunny Yang to air out the whispery, occasionally wailling ghosts in her instrument.

An electrocoustic take on Palestinian group Ramallah Underground‘s gritty, metaphorically charged Tashweesh (Distortion) was next, the ensemble adhering tightly to a backing track for a hypnotic, menacingly Lynchian ambience. Avant garde Vietnamese-American zither player Van-Anh Vo then joined the ensemble on the traditional, spiky dan tranh and vocals (and later played keening, sinister glissandos on a loudly amplified dan bao) for a lush pastorale possibly titled Green Delta. Violinist David Harrington led them through Vo’s Christmas Storm to a wild chamber-metal crescendo out; Dutt switched to a screechy wood flute for a third Vo work, before returning to his usual axe as the piece morphed into a lithe dance. After a long, rapt Ljova arrangement of the anxiously dreamy alap section of a Ram Narayan raga, Harrington switching to the resonant sarangi, the ensemble brought up Magda Giannikou, frontwoman of the disarmingly charming French lounge-pop group Banda Magda, to play a new, custom-made lanterna with its deep, rippling, pinging tones. The world premiere of her new work Strope in Antistrophe mingled biting yet playful cadenzas and tricky back-and-forth polyrhythms within a warmly tuneful, enveloping atmosphere.

Aptly named Irish chamber-folk quartet the Gloaming opened the evening with a series of resonantly nocturnal arrangements of ancient songs as well as a couple of new ones that sounded like them, violinist Martin Hayes’ otherworldly, deceptively simple washes of melody rising over Dennis Cahill’s casually meticulous guitar, along with piano and vocals. What’s the likelihood of seeing something this esoteric, and this much fun? In the next couple of weeks, pretty much every day.

July 27, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment