Saturday, March 8, 2008

Review: Fear No Music conquers the new stuff

The intrepid members of Fear No Music explored new soundscapes in a concert on Friday evening at the Old Church. Well over a hundred people heard a program that featured music by American composers Matthew Burtner, John Corigliano, William Bolcom, and Steven Ricks. In addition, Bob Priest arranged excerpts of a piece by Karlheinz Stockhausen to whose memory the concert was dedicated.

The program began with “Tierkreis” (“Animalcircle” or “Zodiac”) by Stockhausen (1928-2007), which he wrote for music boxes. Priest arranged three (“Pisces,” “Libra,” and “Leo”) of the twelve melodies for violin, viola, and cell to correspond to the signs of players: Inés Voglar, Joël Belgique, Adam Esbensen, respectively. Mika Sunago played the "Virgo" selection on a toy piano, which closely mimicked the original music box sound.

Despite the thin melody, all of the pieces had a cerebral and random quality. The second piece, “Libra,” struck me as the most interesting with angular, somewhat strained tones coming from either the violin or the viola. It was like drinking wine through your teeth, odd yet satisfying.

The next work on the program was Burtner’s “Fragments from Cold,” which he wrote in 2006. Esbensen displayed some unusual techniques with his bow, sliding it on the side of the body of the cello and whispering it across the strings. I heard a lot of clear, glass-like tones, and I could easily envision the sound coming from a glass harmonica. The end of the piece faded away like drifting snow.

The first half of the concert ended with Corigliano’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (1962-1963). This four movement work was played by violinist Erin Furbee and pianist Sunago. The piece opened with a pulsating bass line in the piano and a lot of drive by for both violin and piano. The agitated ending of the first movement elicited applause. The second movement mixed lyricism and intriguing rhythms, and the third veered into a tragic and closed on a menacing note with the violin in the upper attic and the piano in the basement. The fourth movement was frothy and fast, but the piano seemed to overwhelm the violin at times.

After intermission, Voglar and Esbensen performed Bolcom’s “Suite for Violin and Violoncello (1997), which Bolcom had written for violinist Sergiu Luca, the founder of Chamber Music Northwest. From the get-go Volgar and Esbenson made this piece sparkle, varying the tempi and dynamics in mesmerizing way. Even when Esbenson’s bow hit the stand at the end of the first movement, that didn’t break the spell. The wild fling of sound in the fifth movement and the extended pizzicato for both instruments in the sixth were exhilarating. The audience rang it up with tumultuous applause.

The concert concluded with the world premiere of Rick’s “Anthology” for string quartet, piano, and percussion. Performed by Voglar, Furbee, Belgique, Esbensen, Sunago, and percussionist Joel Bluestone, this piece reflects the composer’s admitted obsession with four rock bands: Talking Heads, Pixies, Kate Bush, and Radiohead.

The piece began with Belgique walking down the center aisle and carrying a boombox on his shoulder. He put a CD in the box, loosened up his shirttails and with mock-rock-star flair laid some tricky and serious licks on his viola. Bluestone add wood to the sound, and Sunago put the piano into motion. Soon everyone was into the act, but everyone had to play on the off-beat – or so it seemed to me. I could never figure out the meter even with heads bobbing up and down.

The fourth movement had a stuttering quality that seemed exceedingly tricky. The fifth movement, entitled “Gigantic Wave of Bossanova” did give us some big, honky waves of sound, including a knucklecrunching chord on the piano. Bluestone put the finishing touches on the sixth, and last, movement by rapping his sticks on an interesting collection of objects that included a pipe and a large glass globe. After the last note faded away, the audience responded with sustained enthusiasm.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wish I could've heard that last piece; I really love all of those artists that inspired it but The Pixies especially are my ultimate all-time gods of rock'n roll. I've seen them live but once. They actually broke up in the early nineties, right before everyone realized what a gigantic debt that the entire rock genre that followed owed to them. They got together for a reunion tour a few years ago and fortunately I caught that. They are fierce, uncompromising, and yet hauntingly lyrical at times. The title of that last piece is a mish-mash of the titles of 3 Pixies songs: Gigantic, Wave of Mutilation, and Bossanova.

I love genre-bending compositions and ensembles, such as the marvelously talented string quartet Apocalyptica, who specialize in instrumental transcriptions of Metallica songs. This works surprisingly well, since legendary Metallica bass player Cliff Burton, who wrote the vast majority of their best songs before his untimely end, was a classically trained pianist who was well-versed in theory. There are a number of early Metallica works that are examples of compound binary sonata form realized in the medium of speed metal.

Lorin W.