Sunday, January 25, 2009

Third Angle flexes minimalism to the max in spectular concert

Has minimalism struck a chord in Portland? By the looks of the sizable audience at the Third Angle concert on Friday night at Kaul Auditorium, it has stuck a major one (with incremental changes). In an eclectic program that paired two smaller gems of minimalism with one of the big minimalistic nuggets, Third Angle warped and rapped the ears of each listener with spirited playing that captured the beauty of each piece.

A long line of last-minute ticket purchasers caused the concert to start a little late, but they were rewarded with an outstanding performance by flutists GeorgeAnne Ries and David Buck of “Piece in the Shape of a Square” by arch minimalist Philip Glass. With 14 music stand stretching almost the entire length of the stage. Ries and Buck slowly moved from right to left (from the audience perspective) with toes lightly tapping on the stage floor as they played this complicated pieces. The notes seemed to be intertwined and danced around each other in a constantly-streaming maze. The volume, meter, and emotion of the piece was a constant, yet no pattern of notes repeated exactly over the course of the twelve-plus minutes that it took for Ries and Buck to play it, so it remained fresh from beginning to end.

Somewhere in the fifth stand of music, both players took a collective breath at the same time, but they might have preferred a sip of water. The pulse of this music was unrelentingly the same from the first note to the last, and I thought that Ries and Buck might falter somewhere along the way, but hey became a kind of human metronome as they moved across the stage, and that was oddly mesmerizing as well as astounding, and the audience responded to the piece with rapturous applause.

Next on the program, the audience viewed Hal Hartley’s film “The New Math(s)” and heard accompanying score by Louis Andriessen. The movie combines a unique sense of humor with action as three students struggle with a math theorem and with each other in an apparent attempt to solve it.

Performed by Ron Blessinger, violin, GeorgeAnne Ries, flute, Gordon Rencher, marimba, and LeaAnne DenBeste, soprano, Andriessen’s tightly wound music complimented the film’s setting (an empty academic warehouse), the Kung-fu fight scenes, and the sexually-charged undertone (eating of a crisp apple) as the three actors pursued the truth of the equation. Aside from a couple of times when the marimba overpowered DenBeste’s pure voice, the performers blended superbly.

The second half of the program was devoted to Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” an (almost) hour-long tour de force of minimalism. The Third Angle New Music Ensemble, with supplemental musicians (including four female voices), brought down the house with an incredibly vibrant performance that involved a high amount of rhythmic intensity and an intoxicating mixture of sounds. I loved the gradual crescendos and decrescendos whenever the bass clarinets, played by Todd Kuhns, and Mark Dubac, arrived on the scene. The doo doos of sopranos LeAnne DenBeste, Stephanie Karmer, Gayle Neuman, and Catherine van der Salm were marvelously playful. Four pianos played by Susan Smith, Cary Lewis, Carol Rich, and Tomas Svoboda added to the masterful percussion battery, which was played by Jeffrey Peyton, Gordon Rencher, Luanne Warned, Brett Pascal, Brian Gardiner, and Niel DePonte. Violinist Ron Belssinger and cellist Hamilton Cheifetz gave the music snippets of lyricism, which helped to relieve some of the mind-numbing repetition. Overall, the performance by this ensemble was simply fantastic.


As a side note, the audience contained a fine cross-section of Oregon's music cognoscenti. I saw composers Robert Kyr and David Schiff, conductor and composer Gregory Vajda, several musicians from the Oregon Symphony, Cappella Romana’s executive director Mark Powell, Pink Martini’s tour boss Howie Bierbaum, Oregon Symphony's public relations honcho Carl Herko, and the Oregonian's music critic David Stabler.

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