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Tangents - New Bodies - cover scan

New Bodies
Temporary Residence Ltd.

Australian instrumental quintet Tangents return with their fourth album via Temporary Residence. It is their finest work in some time, with an even broader palette of materials and stylistic reference points that are adroitly incorporated. The combination of cello, especially favoring pizzicato, and synth melodies remains, but along for the ride are prepared piano sounds, angular bass interjections, and skittering beats. Electric guitar textures and and undulating patterning are propelled by muscular acoustic drums.

Indebted to post-rock, jazz, alt-electronica, and a dose of contemporary classical sounds, it transcends these various categorizations and their carbon dating to create music that is entirely fresh and of the moment. Recommended.

10 hours ago |
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Da Capo Chamber Players Perform a Potpourri of American Works

Da Capo Chamber Players

Da Capo Chamber Players

Merkin Concert Hall

June 4, 2018

NEW YORK – Themed programs and portrait concerts are all the rage these days. As such, it is refreshing when an ensemble goes eclectic, presenting a diverse array of music. Such was the case on Monday, June 4th, when Da Capo Chamber Players performed eight pieces by living American composers who write in a plethora of styles. Consisting of violinist Curtis Macomber, cellist Chris Gross, flutist Patricia Spencer, pianist Steven Beck and joined by guest artists soprano Lucy Shelton, clarinetists Marianne Glythfeldt and Carlos Cordeiro, and percussionist Michael Lipsey, the musicians are a formidable cadre of some of New York’s best new music performers. This was handily demonstrated in all of the works on offer at Merkin — how often can you depend on that level of consistency?

Few groups perform the rhythmic patternings of minimalism more assuredly than the Da Capo Players. Here they clearly delineated the differences between various types of ostinatos. Sweet air (1999) by David Lang juxtaposed its repetitions with distressed dissonances, In the sole premiere on the program, Dylan Mattingly’s Ecstasy #3 (2018) presented passages filled with an alt-folk-inflected melody. An arrangement by Robert Moran of Philip Glass’s Modern Love Waltz (1980) may have explored repetition in the most straightforward way of the pieces here, but its fluid playfulness made it a fetching addition to the proceedings.

The modernist wing of composition was represented too. Elliott Carter’s Canon for Four (1984) received an incisive rendition, with the contrapuntal details of the work vividly underscored. Tanoa León’s One Mo’ Time (2016) mixed a varied palette of chromaticism with inflections of gospel and jazz. She is one of the best at allowing these two traditions to coexist in her music in organic fashion. Christopher Cerrone supplied one of the evening’s most imaginative works. Hoyt=Schermerhorn for keyboard mixed a gradual build-up of soft textures that was somewhat indebted to the works of Feldman but through quicker changes of harmony. Over time, effects such as reverb and treble register loops brought the piece from its eighties origins into the twenty-first century. Amalgam (2015) by Taylor Brook, was the concert’s most experimental piece, with the players (and soprano Lucy Shelton) moving from disparate roles to unison playing, then heterophonic treatment of the piece’s melody. Amalgam is a fascinating composition that certainly proved to be a successful experiment for Da Capo.

The concert’s standout was Romancero (1983), for soprano and ensemble, settings of four medieval poems thought to be from the Sephardic Jewish tradition by Mario Davidovsky. Shelton was as expressive as ever and well-matched for the angular challenges posed by Romancero’s post-tonal pitch vocabulary. Her voice ranged from delicately floating pianissimo passages to forceful forte declamations. The instrumental parts are quite demanding as well, reminiscent of the complexly articulate language of Davidovsky’s electroacoustic Synchronisms. Shelton is a frequent collaborator with Da Capo (see a recent video of their rendition of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire below), and their association showed in the intricate interplay between voice and instruments: a gem of a performance.

As if to remind us of the celebratory catholicity of taste that bound together the disparate strands of this program, its finale was the brief, yet brilliantly multi-faceted, Encore (1991) by Bruce Adolphe. Composed to celebrate the Da Capo Players’ twentieth anniversary, it has remained a staple of their repertoire. It is hard to believe that the group has now been going for 48 years. Based on the vigor with which they performed at Merkin Hall, the sky’s the limit for their upcoming golden anniversary season.


2 days ago |
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The 14th annual Dog Star concert series rolled into The Wild Beast at CalArts on June 9, 2018 and featured the Los Angeles appearance of the noted Dutch pianist Reinier van Houdt. A fine crowd assembled in The Beast despite a brush fire that shut down two lanes of the local freeway. Four contemporary solo piano pieces were on the program as well as Concert for Piano and Orchestra, by John Cage.

Layers for Piano, by Nomi Epstein, opened the program and began with a series of soft, single notes followed by brief chords. A deep rumble was occasionally heard in the lower registers, but the opening pattern of a few notes plus a simple chord persisted as the piece proceeded. The phrasing was consistently spare but engaging, with a quietly mysterious feel. The emotional delivery was impressive given the economical use of sound and masterfully restrained touch by van Houdt. The soft nebulous edges of Layers for Piano artfully evoked a comfortable float on a feathery cloud.

More quiet music followed with Pythagorean Study for piano and electronics, by Andrew Young. Short two-note chords separated by silence were repeated, as if some signal were being transmitted. As the piece proceeded this muted pattern repeated, with the notes changing pitch or played in a different register. The overall effect was to create a wistfully nostalgic sensibility from just this simple construct. The soft keyboard playing by van Houdt was the critical element here, and the listening was like basking in a collection of warm memories. Also, by Jennie Gottschalk followed and this displayed a similarity to the Young piece in that it consisted of quietly simple chords. These included dissonance as well as a somewhat darker tone in the lower registers. Although carefully subdued, Also contained a slightly sinister feel that was enhanced by the accelerando towards the finish. Rapid high and low notes completed the drama at the ending.

Trapani, by Jerry Hunt followed, and this 1989 solo piano piece provided a lively contrast to the more reserved music heard in the program to this point. Strong tremolos rippled through the highest and lowest registers of the keyboard producing an agitated feel full of anxiety and tension. A great wash of notes continued with a distinctly fluid feel, like some darkly churning waterway in full flood. The dynamics rose and fell like a surging tide, cresting to an impressive level, only to pull back again. The texture was a mass of continuous motion, as if driven by waves on a stormy sea. The extended tremolos, the variations in volume and intensity were all skillfully executed by van Houdt, whose precise control over the keyboard never wavered. Trapani is an expressive and animated conjuring of the powerful natural forces at work all around us.

The final piece on the program was Concert for Piano and Orchestra, by John Cage. Mr. van Houdt was joined by an instrument section consisting of cello, violin, bassoon, flute and viola. Written for David Tutor, Cage’s construction and notation for this piece allow a wide latitude for interpretation by the piano soloist. The piano score is a series of loose pages, each with a condensed form of notation, and are played in whatever order the pianist determines at the moment. The instruments in the orchestra are supplied with several pages of notated staffs and although there are no bar lines marked or tempos specified, each staff is assigned a duration of one minute. Accordingly, the instruments are synchronized by stop watch while the pianist plays independently. The soloist leads in the sense that there is always something heard from the piano. This may be a run of notes, cluster chords or perhaps a bit of a melody. There were extended techniques as well – plucking of strings inside the piano and knocking on various external parts of the wood case. The instruments accompany with independently sustained tones or short phrases and there is no common beat or pulse.

This arrangement actually works quite well. The piano is the most active part, and the notes bounded up and down the keyboard with a sense of playful energy. Van Houdt seemed to be in constant motion, as if chasing a kitten around and through the piano. The instruments filled in solidly so that the texture was constantly changing but always engaging. Although the piano and instruments are intentionally disconnected, there is a surprising cohesiveness to this piece as it uncoils with a delightful unpredictability. That Concert for Piano and Orchestra takes such breathtaking chances with its indeterminate structure and yet achieves such a captivating result is a testament to the artistic vision of John Cage, and irrefutable evidence of technical mastery by those who undertake its performance.

This concert was made possible, in part, by support from the Netherland-America Foundation.

The Dog Star concert series continues through June 16 at various venues around Los Angeles.

In addition to Mr. van Houdt, the performers in this concert were:

Christine Tavolacci, flute
Cody Putnam, bassoon
Eric Clark, violin
Cassia Streb, viola
Jennifer Bewerse, cello

5 days ago |
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June 7, the opening day of the 2018 Ojai Music Festival, featured the usual welcome variety of lectures, interviews and pop-up concerts as well as performances of music by two notable mid-20th century Italian experimentalists. The first day of the festival was picture perfect and a large crowd milled about the outdoor venues, meeting and greeting. There was little evidence of the disastrous Thomas Fire of five months prior, and spirits were as sunny as the weather.

At 6:00 PM, Luciano Berio’s challenging Sequenza IXa for Clarinet, played by Vincente Alberola, was heard from the Libbey Park gazebo, to good effect. The amplification and the open spaces were nicely matched and Alberola’s precise articulations and dynamic nuances were clearly heard throughout the scattered crowd. This sensitive and virtuosic performance was received with enthusiastic applause.

At 7:30 PM somewhat larger crowd gathered for La lontanaza nostalgica utopica futura by Luigi Nono featuring Festival Music Director Patricia Kopatchinskaja on violin and Los Angeles-based composer Scott Worthington at the controls of the electronics. The program notes proclaimed: “A dynamic duet between solo violin and spatial amplified sound transforms the Libbey Park into an all-encompassing and immersive aural environment.” A seemingly tall order, but the array of large speakers positioned around the space and the formidable sound system panel looked promising. La lontanaza nostalgica utopica futura consists of 8 recorded tracks and a solo violin, and these were seamlessly integrated into the speaker system so that good hearing in the open spaces of the park was not an issue.

The piece began with the speakers filling the space with the soft sounds of what seemed to be string players warming up or tuning. A few odd words were heard, then some thumps and squeaks before a series of rapidly complex runs in the violin established an air of suspense and uncertainty. The recorded sounds often came from single speakers in opposite corners of the space, and this added spatial perception to the overall experience. The crisp precision of the live violin phrases was helpfully distinct from the recording. There is little form or structure evident in this work – at times the sounds were fast and intense while at other times slower and softly atmospheric. The violinist moved randomly about to a series of music stands located throughout the area, and this served to increase the sense of mystery. The crowd followed Ms Kopatchinskaja in a great mass, cell cameras in hand, but this did not disturb the performer whose furtive movements added to the drama of the moment.

This is complex, nuanced music, with stretches of quiet tension mixed with sharply phrased passages brimming with anxiety. I first heard La lontanaza performed indoors, in a converted warehouse and the atmosphere there gave the piece a sense of tension that was distinctly urban. Outdoors in Libbey Park the music lost none of its power, but rather emerged as more rustic and primal. In Ojai, even the ambient noise from the streets and some quiet talking among the crowd fit right in with the recordings, and actually added to the performance. As the afternoon light faded, Ms Kopatchinskaja became a spirit-like presence moving among the darkened trees. A long, looped final violin note signaled the conclusion of the piece and the crowd slowly dissipated, as if released from a magical spell.

The Ojai Music Festival runs through Sunday, June 10.

Photos courtesy of Bonnie Wright. Used with permission.

9 days ago |
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The 14th annual Dog Star Orchestra concert series kicked off on Saturday, June 2, 2018 at Automata in Chinatown. A new music tradition, the Dog Star series this year will present nine concerts over two weeks at various venues around Los Angeles. This occasion was a performance by the Southland Ensemble of Byzantine Rites, a new work by Laura Steenberge. A standing room-only crowd wedged itself into the cozy spaces of Automata to experience a remarkable exploration of medieval chant, contemporary music and a wide variety of engaging visual manifestations.

Byzantine Rites is the result of research by the composer into seventeen settings of the medieval Byzantine chant Cherubic Hymn. Byzantine Rites is, in fact, Byzantine in its very structure: there are five separate movements – having five different embedded sections within – all performed serially without pause. Different combinations of instruments were used including woodwinds, strings, percussion and horns fashioned from PVC pipe. A number of physical objects were employed as well, lights, wide rolls of aluminum foil, several large bags of plastic straws and a suspended microphone lowered into a large cardboard tube.

As Ms. Steenberge wrote in the program notes: “The Byzantine aesthetic seeks never-ending, constantly unfolding symbolism, layering image, sound, light, space, smell, movement and text. Each action has both a pragmatic and a symbolic function.” Accordingly, the space at Automata was fully exploited for this aesthetic incorporating instruments, voices and various physical objects, At the rear of the stage was a high balcony, accessed by stairs behind a wall, and this allowed the performers to occupy different places and levels for different actions.

Byzantine Rites begins with a simple chant melody on a bass flute that instantly establishes a strong sense of the mystical. The humming of notes into the instrument while it was played and the solemn ringing of chimes added an exotic feel. As this was proceeding, plastic straws were dropped from the raised balcony down to the stage, impinging on a microphone. The amplified patter provided an intriguing percussive element to the texture as well as a dramatic visual component to the scene. The rain of straws increased, and soon great clumps were sent falling downward from above. The overall pattern for Byzantine Rites was immediately established to include musical, physical and visual elements throughout.

Another section of the piece featured more flute melody and the hoisting of a length of PVC pipe up to the balcony using a long rope. The pipe was cut into roughly one foot pieces and sent back down to the stage where they were played like an old rams horn trumpet. These sounds were looped and then mixed together with a live bassoon and saxophone. The long, sustained tones created some interesting harmonic patterns and included an effective dissonance that supplied a more contemporary feel.

In a later section, strings and voices refocused to the original medieval sensibility with drones and a warm harmony, while large rolls aluminum foil were unfurled from the balcony down the back wall to the stage. Two electric lights suspended from long cords were then lowered along the foil. In the darkened spaces these looked very much like candles shining out in some dim cathedral interior. The solemn music, the staging on different levels, the physical and the visual components of Byzantine Rites all contributed to the impression that a sort of liturgy was occurring.

Towards the finish a large cardboard tube was hung from the balcony and a microphone lowered within to create various tweets and sounds from feedback. This was accompanied by the strings, continuing with the quietly calm melody, while the woodwinds played long, slow tones that hinted at anxiety as they fell in and out of dissonance. It was as if the old, comfortable world of the Byzantine medieval was giving way to an apprehensive present. The music ceased and the lights along the foil dimmed to complete darkness at the end. Byzantine Rites is an extraordinary combination of the old, the new, the musical and the visual, all artfully combined to create an experience that engages the senses, the emotions and the memory.

The Southland Ensemble is:

Casey Anderson
Jennifer Bewerse
Eric KM Clark
Orin Sie Hildestad
Jonathan Stehney
Cassia Streb
Christine Tavolacchi

with special guest Cody Putman

The Dog Star Orchestra concert series continues through June 16 at various locations around Los Angeles.

11 days ago |
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The much anticipated work The Cantata or, You are the star in God’s eye, by Wolfgang von Schweinitz was performed May 23, 2018 at the REDCAT venue in Disney Hall. A joint production of wasteLAnd and Microfest, the evening featured the wasteLAnd collective musicians conducted by Nicholas Deyoe and the recorded voice of Friederike Mayröcker’s original text with the English translation projected on a large screen. A fine crowd filled REDCAT to hear this extraordinary piece as it explored the intersection of Austrian avant-garde literature and 21st century music written in just intonation.

The Cantata has its origins in the prose of Friederike Mayröcker, considered one of the most important figures in post-war Austrian letters. Her poetry and radio plays have been a part of contemporary European literature since 1946, and the libretto for The Cantata was written as a remembrance of her long-time partner, the Viennese poet Ernst Jandl. This was produced by Bavarian Radio in 2003 with original music scored by Wolfgang von Schweinitz. Mayröcker once described her artistic process in Heimspiel (the Journal of the Austrian public radio station) as “I live in pictures. I see everything in pictures, my complete past, memories are pictures. I transform pictures into language by climbing into the picture. I walk into it until it becomes language.” Accordingly, the text of The Cantata is filled with all sorts of vivid imagery: organic, concrete, abstract and spiritual. Written shortly after the passing of Ernst Jandl, the text includes a number of arias that are especially moving –  even religious – inspired by the cantatas of JS Bach.

For this performance, the music for The Cantata was completely revised between 2016 and 2017 for the wasteLAnd collective. As von Schweinitz wrote in the program notes: “When I rewrote the score for the wasteLAnd collective, I left the temporal and harmonic structure of the composition in its original form, as well as most of the soprano part, with just a few minor modifications for Stephanie Aston’s voice, but two of the ensemble parts are entirely new, and I’ve drastically changed the other four parts, adding a lot of new melodic and harmonic details in the attempt to improve the elegance and efficiency of my counterpoint – with the aim of trying to optimize the chances for the musicians to accomplish all of their tuning and performance tasks with greatest success and pleasure.”

The Cantata opens with the recorded text of Friederike Mayröcker’s libretto, spoken by the poet in German. The English translation by Donna Stonecipher was projected on a large screen behind the musicians. The music began with a warm, nostalgic feel and a beguiling sweetness that perfectly captured the forest and flowers described in this initial part of the text. The work proceeded with continuously spoken words accompanied by long stretches of instrumental and vocal music. Sometimes the feeling was wistfully regretful while at other times more forceful and dramatic, but always driven by the imagery of the prose. The arias were most particularly powerful when they dealt with the sacred and the metaphysical, the music soaring like a luminous chorale tune in a solemn Passion. Ms. Aston, coping with an almost continuous vocal line that often included great jumps in pitch, brilliantly applied her strong and agile voice to the expressive libretto. The powerful brass section of the wasteLAnd collective provided a solid foundation of German sensibility. For the mostly English-speaking audience, the unconventional pitches and harmonies in the tuning actually served to intensify the sense of immersion in another culture, and nicely complimented the elegant German prose heard in the recording. A profound silence was observed at the conclusion of this work, followed by loud cheering and sustained applause. The Cantata or, You are the star in God’s eye is a moving journey through poignancy and sorrow as seen through the words of Friederike Mayröcker and felt in the music of Wolfgang von Schweinitz.

20 days ago |
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A delightful interview with the about-to-be-nanagenerian composer Thea Musgrave. Don’t miss her 90th birthday concert by the New York Virtuoso Singers, the American Brass Quintet, and various soloists at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin (off Times Square) at 8pm on May 27 in a concert of choral, solo, and operatic works. The concert features the premiere of La Vida es Sueño and the American premieres of The Voices of Our Ancestors and Dawn.  Get your tickets here.

25 days ago |
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Cold Blue Music presented an evening of solos as the latest in the Soundwaves series of new music concerts held at the Santa Monica Public Library. Music by Daniel Lentz and Michael Byron was performed, with the composers in attendance. Pianist Vicki Ray and harpist Tasha Smith Godínez were on hand as soloists along with a nice crowd arriving on a perfect spring evening.

River of 1,000 Streams (2016) by Daniel Lentz was first up, featuring Ms. Ray at the piano and accompanied by a prerecorded track of fragments of the piece that were played through two large speakers on the stage. Ms. Ray wore an earbud that provided synchronization cues during the performance. River of 1,000 Streams began with thick tremolos played in the lowest register of the piano, joined by a deep tremolo rumble issuing from the speakers. The composer is quoted in the program notes stating that this piece was “conceived one early morning on the banks of the Yellowstone River.” Accordingly, there is a strong, flowing feel, surging and swelling like a powerful force of nature. The sounds coming from the speakers consisted of up to eleven different layers, weaving in and out of the texture. These were nicely complimented by the piano, and the overall result was a dark, roiling tide of sound, constantly in motion.

Although seemingly simple in structure and consistently dense, River of 1,000 Streams continuously evolved over the course of the performance. The repeating patterns moved slowly up the piano keyboard, with each new set of pitches adding to the feeling of burgeoning motion. The dynamics rose and fell,  adding to the sense of immense movement. As the pitches climbed up to the middle registers of the piano, the electronics often issued strongly contrasting waves of lower tones, maintaining the sense of depth and power. The continuous playing of the tremolos, the coordination with the recorded track and the shaping of the dynamics were all expertly executed by Ms. Ray, fully engaging the audience throughout the entire performance.

As the piece reached into the upper registers of the piano, the feeling turned decidedly optimistic, even as the speakers poured out their forceful streams of sound. Every so often, a series of three or four non-tremolo chords in the piano added some drama. The optimism ultimately turned to awe and finally transcendence as the higher notes on the keyboard were heard. The piece closed on a deep rumble in the speakers, offset by long trill on the highest piano notes, neatly summarizing the entire journey. River of 1,000 Streams is a monumental work, as deeply powerful as the river that inspired it.

The second solo of the evening was In the Village of Hope (2013), by Michael Byron. This was performed by Tasha Smith Godínez who had arrived with an impressively beautiful harp that dominated the right side of the stage. The composer writes: “In the Village of Hope is a piece of unabashed virtuosity. Its complex temporal structure and intricate counterpoint vie for the listener’s attention. Pitch resources are limited to diatonic collections, enabling harmonic relationships to seamlessly cycle through seven contiguous key changes.”

This work is roughly analogous to the Lentz piece in that the texture is fairly consistent. However, In the Village of Hope is much lighter and has a more gentle feel. The copious notes pouring from the harp felt like raindrops falling on the leaves of a deep forest. Full of motion, yet always restful and serene, this piece evokes a distinctly exotic sensibility. The several key changes were very effective and provided a sense of renewal to the listener’s ear as the piece progressed. Ms. Godínez might have been expected to be quickly exhausted by the complexity and quantity of notes, but her hands were a model of economy in movement. The playing was impressively expressive and the acoustics of the space did not detract from the delicate texture of this piece. In the Village of Hope coasted to an elegant conclusion, providing another transcendent experience of the evening.

River of 1,000 Streams and In the Village of Hope are both available on CD from Cold Blue Music.

27 days ago |
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NEW YORK – On February 10th, 2018, Architek Percussion and TAK ensemble presented five US premieres in the DiMenna Center for Classical Music’s Benzaquen Hall. The program, charmingly titled ArchiTAK, was composed entirely of new music by New York and Montreal composers. Walking into the hall expecting some sort of configuration to accommodate five percussionists, a flautist, clarinetist, violinist, and vocalist, I was instead greeted by nine chairs in a tight, even row behind nine microphones. I heard members of TAK ensemble behind me discussing the location of “the knives.” I was ready to expect the unexpected as the program began with Myriam Bleau’s Separation Space. The piece began with these nine performers manipulating electronically processed microphones with tapping, scratching, sandpaper, and yes, a chef’s knife. Adding to the rich amalgam building in the speakers, performers began to play pre-recorded media from cellphones, and two began to sing in a close, gently pulsing dissonance. The work was an excellent opening to the program. I found myself having a thought that I would return to many times throughout this program. New music can be strange, intimate, challenging, and moving, and in capable hands, can be all four at once. Taylor Brook’s Incantation left the stage to Architek Percussion, with each member of the quartet equipped with a hi-hat prepared with a small towel, two metals bars (each tuned to form a microtonal octachord spanning the width of about 2 semitones), a brake drum, and a violin bow. Early questions I raised to myself about the authenticity of their performance considering the handicap of headphones (presumably playing a click) were quickly replaced with a respect for these performers as they flawlessly moved through the aggressively fast and equally demanding piece with incredibly tight ensemble. The first half of the program concluded with A Song About Saint Edward the Confessor by Isaiah Ceccarelli, which again utilized the full complement of players. Opening as a vocalise before later unfolding into a proper song, the piece capitalized on vocalist Charlotte Mundy’s unaffected voice and pure tone, while still leaving her room to realize a richly expressive performance. While her diction was very clear and the hall was intimite, I felt that omitting the text from the program was a missed opportunity.  

Moments into New York composer David Bird’s Descartes and the Clockwork Girl, I understood why this was programmed after a short break. I again found myself considering the strange, intimate, challenging, and moving as the piece worked through timbre pairings that were as conceptually attractive and musically effective. I am still particularly taken with Carlos Cordeiro’s performance, balancing passages that demand incredible dexterity with clean, sustained bass clarinet multiphonics. The program concluded with Taylor Brook’s Pulses. For the fifth time that night, I found myself almost entirely outside of time, so engrossed in the performance that I honestly could not give an accurate break-down of the roughly 90 minute program.

After the final piece concluded and members of Architek Percussion and TAK received a strong round of much deserved applause, a gesture towards the audience revealed that both David Bird and Taylor Brook were in attendance for this performance. For all these musicians did to curate and present moving and compelling works of new music, there were several missed opportunities in the presentation of the program itself that could have gone a long way to making the music more accessible. Given that each piece contained such evocative, programmatic titles, I have a feeling including program notes would have provided audience members with a better vocabulary to appreciate the work of both the composers and performers. With a composer present for three of the five pieces on the program, I feel it was a real missed opportunity not to hear about their work from them, especially considering the intimate nature of the venue.


Myriam BleauSeparation Space

Taylor BrookIncantation

Isaiah Ceccarelli — A Song About Saint Edward the Confessor

David BirdDescartes and the Clockwork Girl

Taylor BrookPulses

Architek Percussion: Ben Duinker, Mark Morton, Ben Reimer, Alessandro Valiante

TAK ensemble: Charlotte Mundy, voice; Laura Cocks, flute; Carlos Cordeiro, clarinet; Marina Kifferstein, violin; Ellery Trafford, percussion

28 days ago |
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On Cinco de Mayo, Art Share in Los Angeles was the venue for Music for Art Galleries, a concert of music by composer Nick Norton. The occasion was the completion of Norton’s Doctoral studies at the UC, Santa Barbara and a large crowd gathered to hear a program of no fewer than ten pieces of his music. A dozen of the top musicians in the Los Angeles new music scene were on hand to perform what proved to be an intriguing variety of original works.

The program opened with Mix Bus 09, an electronic piece that filled Art Share with a deep rumbling roar, a bit like an idling motorcycle engine mixed with static electrical discharges. The entire venue was darkened, and this served to amplify in the mind the already loud and menacing sounds. The volume increased to an overwhelming industrial level, and then tapered back down as the lights came up to begin the next piece.

Song for Justine and Richard (On a Lyric by Conor Oberst) began immediately, written for and performed by vocalist Justine Aronson and pianist Richard Valitutto. The contrast with Mix Bus 09 could not have been more pronounced as Song for Justine and Richard began with series of quiet notes in the piano followed by warm and welcoming chords. The voice joined in with strong, sustained tones that floated above, creating a lovely mix. The was a sense of the mystical mixed with the exotic, but nicely avoiding the overly sentimental. The singing, naturally, was precisely matched to the piano accompaniment and the result was a beautiful and touching piece.

Monet in Greyscale followed and this was for string quartet featuring soft, feathery trills in the viola and cello offset by long, arcing tones in the violins. An ethereal and airy sensibility predominated, even as the cello and viola phrases became increasingly active. The steady tones in the violins insured that the overall feeling was always calming and restful, and the piece coasted to its finish on a warm finishing chord. Monet in Greyscale is a remarkable mixture of the complex and the sustained, resulting in an unexpectedly restful tranquility.

Music inspired by nature followed. Quiet Harbor for flute, bass clarinet, cello and violin combined slightly discordant notes to create a settled, if solitary and remote feeling, as if coming upon a far-off anchorage after a long sea voyage. Darkly mysterious tones from the bass clarinet mixed with very high pitches in the flute and violin to create an intriguing blend that evoked just a touch of melancholy. The more active Broken River Variations for piano, violin and viola had all the movement and stridency of a rapidly flowing stream. Repeated chords in the piano with longer, sustained tones in the strings gradually tamed the roiling texture to bring a sense of direction and purpose, as the headlong rush of a stream might become the ordered flow of a small river. At the finish there was a pronounced rolling feel to the rhythms, in keeping with the character of a fully grown river. Broken River Variations is a well-crafted portrait of a watercourse as it transitions from youth to maturity.

Powerful music was next, starting with All the Wrong Notes for solo piano. Strong, declarative chords and a complex line in the higher registers opened this piece, immediately establishing a disconcerting atmosphere. A quiet stretch only amplified the anxiety by way of contrast, and a subsequent series of rapid passages quickly reinstated the tension. Loud tone clusters added a dimension of violence so that by the finish this piece could be fairly claimed as a frightening experience. Richard Valitutto’s robust yet disciplined playing contributed greatly to the dynamic impact of All the Wrong Notes.

Additional musical forces joined the piano on stage for Imitator 2, including a string quartet, flute, bass clarinet and electric bass guitar, all conducted by Brandon Rolle. An explosive tone cluster and high, nervous trills in the flute opened this piece. The other instruments soon entered, forming a sort of musical scrum, full of energy and flying in every direction. A softer section provided some respite, but this was soon interrupted by pounding chords and a loud piano crash. A sense of anxious calm was restored with a quiet piccolo solo with cello accompaniment. This provided a remarkable sense of placid optimism, making for a soothing contrast to the frantic opening. A loud scary finish only served to highlight the extraordinary emotional range captured by Imitator 2.

After the intermission, Nick Norton appeared to perform two electric guitar solos. On Geology was first, and this was a slow and sedate piece that featured the looping of languid notes into a lovely ambient wash. The amplified sounds completely filled the space with a placid fullness, yet never overwhelmed. A video by Kelly McGillicuddy, projected on the wall, was filled with pulsating crowds of cellular organisms that seemed almost alive. Barnes Ryken immediately followed, more ambient music that included recorded bells and assorted electronic sounds. This grew in power so that the volume and texture had an immersive effect, complimented by another McGillicuddy video. A repeating sequence of three guitar notes provided a nice counterpoint and acted as a focal point for the listener. Barnes Ryken ultimately achieved a compelling, otherworldly feel that was strongly impressed on the senses of hearing and sight.

The big finish to the program came in the form of Beach Song and featured all of the musicians on stage with Norton in a Hawaiian shirt playing electric guitar. The sound of an active surf poured out of the speakers as Ms. Aronson began the piece in her stylishly lyrical voice. The other instruments joined in, forming a sort of sea swell of sound against the vocal melody that was infused with a delicate pop sensibility. The volume soon increased, like waves of sound washing against the shore as the complex texture in the instruments dominated. Eventually quiet returned, and a finespun vocal solo completed the piece in a wistful cloud of nostalgia. It was the perfect ending to an evening of outstanding music and heartfelt performances.

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