Friday, November 17, 2006

BoCo New Music Festival 2006: Day 1

I'm going to try and blog every day of the new music festival here. It's probably not going to work out, but that's okay. That's going to mean two posts tomorrow, one for the festival and one for the tournament. (One day left until the bodies are swept away! Vote early, vote often.)

The festival kicked off with a blistering set of recent music from New York's Argento Ensemble. The subtitle of the program caused a bit of pre-concert commotion, (is there such a thing as neo-compressionism?) but nonetheless the ten (!) works that followed illustrated that Webern's crystalline musical world is still visited by more recent composers. The concert opened with two solos and a duet. Of these composer/conductor/pianist's Michel Galante's Flicker was the highlight, perhaps of the entire evening. The demands of virtuosity on the modern player were very evident, a barely audible but insistent sextuplet was demanded of clarinetist Carol McGonnell for the entirety of the piece. Piano chords punctured this layer of sound, with a sum effect that reminded me of Fantômas's Delirium Cordia. I just got an image of someone on a stretcher, the piano acting as their separated thoughts. As the clarinet ostinato becomes more present, the dire situation is harder to ignore. Take that however you'd like.

The first two movements of Fabien Levy's Risâla fî-i-hob wa fî-ilm al-handasa were performed with apparently the premiere of the total work coming this Saturday. (But you're staying around for the rest of the festival, right?) This work dispensed with the brevity that marked the program thus far, also involving most of the ensemble. Much like my experience with Flicker, the pointillism used seemed to affect time itself. A fun thing to note is that the second movement of Risâla fî-i-hob is it use of the bass flute. Not so much that its capabilities for overtones and loud key clicks over its rich notes, but the delight that the audience took in its appearance. As the ensemble came out for the piece, more than one cry of "BASS FLUTE!" could be heard over the applause.

After intermission came Fred Lerdahl's Imbrications, a quick neo-minaturist (I think that one better than neo-compressionist) celebratory piece. A good time. However it in no way prepared us for what came next. Mega-virtuoso Stephanie Griffin stepped out solo for Arthur Kampela's Bridges. The composer refers to it as an exploration of "the continuum between noise and pitch", and I can't think of any other way of describing it. In addition to a metric fuckton of extended technique and wacky glissandi, there was a hissing part. Or maybe it was supposed to sound like static. It was like a tape piece gone wrong, or right. It actually was more reminiscent of early Michael Gordon or other Bang on a Can-ites than Webern. Maybe Webern is in them too.

The final two pieces, Morton Feldman's Viola in My Life I and Philippe Hurel's ...à mesure were intriguing in that more traditional formal statements made an attempt at a comeback. Unlike most of Feldman's pieces of the same time, Viola in My Life is notated traditionally. Nonetheless it's stil very evocative, just barely skirting the idea of a concerto. Supposedly all four Viola in My Life pieces have nearly identical material for the solo viola part. It would be interesting to see them places against each other. Or not, if there's a reason people don't do that.

...à mesure is sonata form, no hiding that. The fast opening is very interesting and again recalls Bang on A Can. (This will be a tangent.) I am admittedly one of an elite group of people who celebrates Toto's "Africa", and when one of this legion held power temporarily she demanded that people listen to it backwards. Try it, it sounds almost the same! Except you get to the good part first. ...à mesure is described as the "negative image" of an earlier piece, so I was worried that the fervent opening merely would lead to sitting through a length denouement. The slow "development" that followed, instead demanded attention to every note as the theme was slowly deconstructed to an almost rediculous level of pontillism. Yes, to the point where each instrument had a single note.

It was a great concert full of working composers, (other than Feldman, who is getting trotted out a little more recently) and I got to get a couple beer with the violist and the composition studio afterwards. Sweet. My apologizes to the Argento Ensemble and everyone reading this since I know I missed some pieces, but it was huge program of shrapnel and I'm not very good at this yet. Three more days of avant-garde pretention are coming, very Webern heavy. Hopefully I'll see some of yous guys at Seully Hall at 8.


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