A capacity audience of over a 150 – with some standing along the back wall – heard the Free Marz String Trio concert on Friday Sept. 28th at the Community Music Center in SE Portland. They created a festive atmosphere for an evening of music that few had ever heard before. Several pieces were dedicated to the memory of Mstislav Rostropovich and Jimi Hendrix, two favorite performs of artistic director and composer, Bob Priest.
The concert presented an array of new music from around the globe. Marylhurst music professor and composer John Paul kicked things off with “Chara,” his new composition for string trio. The Free Marz String Trio (consisting of violinist Inés Voglar, violist Joël Belgique, and cellist Adam Esbensen) dove into the rhythms of this piece with gusto. I liked how one player would finish the phrase that another began. Also impressive was how the ensemble negotiated the sudden downshifting to a lower gear, as if to jump from the fast lane of a freeway to drifting about on a pond in a rowboat. The finale of the piece was emphatic and so was the applause of the audience.
Next came “De Profundis,” an unusual piece for viola and bass by Austrian composer Thomas Daniel Schlee. This music had sections in which the bass played much higher notes than the viola before both instruments go through an agitated phase and the bass descends to the depths. Violist Belgique and bassist Jeff Johnson deftly handled the unusual sounds and improvisational character of this piece, which concluded with the bass rumbling in the basement.
Volgar blended extraordinary control and artistic sensibility in the following piece, “Mikka,” by Iannis Xenakis. A continuous variety of glissandos captivated the audience with buzzing, high-pitched growling, gnawing, screaming, and sighing. The four-minute piece became a real show-stopper in Volgar’s hands, and it elicited an enthusiastic response from the audience.
After a brief pause that featured the recorded ambient sounds of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Tierkreis,” Esbensen played “Declamato & Fuga” from Benjamin Britten’s Suite II for cello. Esbensen showed a lot of nimbleness as he negotiated the sporadic, random sounds of this very abstract piece. I had a hard time getting into this piece.
Actor David Loftus gave a short recitation from Arthur Schnitzler’s novella “None But the Brave,” and garnered lots of laughs of self-recognition from most of the audience.
After this non-music interlude came “Pisces, Libra & Leo, an arrangement by Bob Priest of Stockhausen’s “Tierkreis.” Each member of the Free Marz String Trio took a positions on either side of the audience or on the stage, forming a triangle as they played this whimsical arrangement. I sat nearest to Voglar, who played impeccably throughout, and I think that the others did as well.
The trio returned after intermission to play Priest’s “Four By Igor,” his recent arrangement from Stravinsky’s “Les Cinq Doigts.” The four short numbers that made up this work had a simple and direct character. The third movement was lithe yet haunting, and the fourth alternated intriguingly between plucking and a smooth legato-like sound.
Violinist Erin Furbee joined the string trio to play Priest’s “Formula PH: Three Moves for Jimi,” an abstract homage to the music of Jimi Hendrix. The sound went in many directions, but I was unable to identify any particular Hendrix quote. The audience loved the music and applauded enthusiastically between each “move.”
The concert concluded with “Gypsy Eyes,” an arrangement for string quartet by David Balakrishnan and the Turtle Island String Quartet. This piece had a lot of driving glissandos and the violins and viola were played like mandolins at one point. A highlight was Belgique’s singing "I love your gypsy eyes" (or something to that effect) towards the end. That took everyone by surprise. Okay, now I'm ready to see what Belgique can do with an electronic viola!
A standing ovation followed with lots of cheering for the ensemble and Priest, who put everything together.
I was impressed with the audience, which gave its fullest attention to each piece. Among the listeners, I spotted several members of the Oregon Symphony like principal flutist David Buck, cellist Trevor Fitzpatrick, and new concertmaster Jun Iwasaki. Composer Tomas Svoboda also attended the concert. One of his pieces was featured at the Third Angle New Music Ensemble concert at The Old Church yesterday (Oct. 5th).