Saturday, February 03, 2007


I've been promising a post about this for a coupla days now, so I better deliver. I've been trying to go to more free concerts, in addition to the seven on campus performances that it is imperative that I attend in the interest of my degree. The BSO College Card has been coming to the rescue lately, but NEC has actually been filling in the gaps nicely. To the point were I actually rallied some troops to attend Lee Hyla's sendoff on Tuesday. I was tipped off by Darcy James Argue, a former student of his, and its hard to argue with free. However, I didn't do my research (probably worried about hitting a deer or something, I'll explain that later) which I realized at the moment the saxophonist inhaled.

This first piece was "Pre-Amnesia", and judging from the date (1979) as compared to the rest of the program I'd say that was either his first piece as a prominent composer or typical of his "freshly mature" style. It was particularly frantic, with sort of an Elliott Carter mood with a heaping helping of impatience.

Stephen Drury performed the next work, "Basic Training" for solo piano, in some rather impressive pants. Pants aside, this was a work of a composer who clearly was more put together. Starting with a single middle C jammed hunt-and-peck style, that single note would unify episodes of increasing insanity. I hesitate to use the term variation, since I don't think there was really a theme to begin with, but each episode was manically distinct in character. Tone rows in one, honky-tonk in the next, only separated by a sixteenth note middle C. "Basic Training" also introduced a theme that would reappear in the majority of the works to follow. The murder and mayhem that seem inherent in much of Hyla's work is tempered by a disarmingly gentle coda.

The next piece, "Wilson's Ivory-bill" was a lengthy song for baritone, piano, and field recording. I'll admit that I have my issue with atonal song, two thousand years of song trains you to expect the voice to have the hook. Without functional harmony to push you along or remind you of where you've been, the focus becomes a lot more vertical than horizontal (as in funk compared to Mozart). However, the texture of the piece is very pointillistic and the field recordings didn't really bring anything. Furthermore, the text is really not poetic at all. The baritone floated in and out of sprechstimme to account for this, which was a neat effect but couldn't overcome the text making the piece as a whole even clunkier. But that coda I was telling you about, a major seventh stacked in fifths. He called in the Chrono Trigger chord and when it hit, it hit like Jesus hits like the atom bomb.

One great thing is that up until this point in the concert, the performances were all by the musicians that originally premiered the works. The last piece before the break was a large ensemble work, a piano concerto in fact, so the logisitics of bringing it back home was tuff. Stephen Drury led a cast of kraazy NEC kids on a wild ride indeed. Over two movements it followed the general form of a concerto, with the slow "movement" divided between the two. Being the first real ensemble piece of the show, the lushness of the orchestration was the first thing to hit. Within the first three minutes every member of the ensemble slid from traditional playing to extended technique and back again, perfectly paced to add a new spectrum of color without sounding chinzy.

However, the high point of the piece, nay the concert, was the several double cadenzas given to the piano and the percussion. Oddly enough, this was the only time the piano really seemed to play out. Anyway, the only way I can describe them is perhaps if Cecil Taylor and Max Roach were in a lightsaber duel with the fate of nations in the balance. All I can say is that percussion had some pretty wicked sack.

The second half of the concert consisted of the Boston premiere of his saxophone quartet "Paradigm Lost" and his big hit "Pre-Pulse Suspended". Hyla himself marks "Pre-Pulse" as a turning point in his career, the mythical fusion between concert music and rock and fucking roll. I don't think it rocked as hard as the concerto, mind you, but the glimmers of light are definitely present. Written for twelve instruments, the uniting force was a nervous ostinato quickly tossed back and forth between all of the strings. Generally it was a stream of sixteenth notes, the ultimate punk bass line, but often each player would take liberties with either the pitches or rhythms. These twists in the line reverbated throughout the ensemble like stone dropped in a pond. Similar to "Basic Training" the proverbial stones got bigger (rock, Buick, small moon) and the ensemble became more and more unhinged until the stones stopped and everything reverted.

My apologies to any Hyla fans that think I'm grossly mistreating him, it was four days since the show and this blog is nothing if not a place for me to learn how to write about music. A faster turnaround would probably help. Anyway, it was real cool.

No comments: