Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fear no film music - review

With varying degrees of success, the Fear No Music ensemble paired new music with new films at its most recent concert on Friday evening (April 17) at the Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church in Southeast Portland. Entitled “Parallaxis,” the concert showed 14 brief films (although one used a slide projector) that were accompanied by 14 music works. Many of the films were very abstract. Sometimes they only projected blurry or grainy images, but nothing more than that. For those selections, the Fear No Music ensemble played abstract pieces that matched up pretty well. There was no way to tell if the music was in sync with the video or not – except perhaps if the music ended exactly when the video stopped. That happened sometimes and more often it didn’t. No matter, the event had a fragmentary quality that does speak to our lives. People seem to live in fragments, whether they are tuning in to part of a meeting at work, or spending 15 minutes of “quality time” with their kids, or listening to a few minutes of music on their iPods. Yet each fragment can be experienced in a genuine way, and that’s where it counts.

Selecting 14 films from visual artists and finding the right pieces of music that would work with them was a collaborative effort between the Fear No Music ensemble and Leo and Anna Daedalus of the HELSINQI media studio. The music varied from pieces written for soloists to those written for sextets. In this concert, the Fear No Music ensemble (violinist Inés Voglar, violist Joël Belgique, percussionist Joel Bluestone, and pianist Jeff Payne) were joined by violinist Paloma Griffin, cellist Nancy Ives, flutist Alicia Didonato Paulsen, clarinetist Carol Robe, and bass clarinetist Philip Everall.

The music piece that struck me the most was three selections for solo cello from “Sept Papillons” by Kaija Saariaho. Nancy Ives got the most amazing and really weird sounds from her cello, and it was mesmerizing – especially all of the overtones. I had to ask her after the concert, what the heck she was doing. She showed me the score and how Saariaho wrote notes that caused overtones and which “overtoned” notes would result. Well, I have to admit that even if I could ever learn how to play the cello, it would take me another lifetime to learn how to play that score and even come within spitting distance of approximating the music that Ives can make.

Another piece that hit me was “Rebonds B” by Iannis Xenakis, which featured Joel Bluestone. This was in your face music, and Bluestone was in his element, keeping a constant heartthrob of a beat while striking all sorts of percussive instruments. The drumming became more intense with the speed of the film, but it had a lighter touch when the movie showed a snippet of a volleyball game.

Bass clarinetist Philip Everall played a wild and woolly piece called “King Friday” by Michael Lowenstern. This music seemed to verge on be-bop or may just the bop, because Lowenstern could reach down a grab all sorts of basement-jangling notes that jolted the audience with positive energy.

I also enjoyed the selection from Reza Vali’s “Folk Songs” for string quartet, which had a Middle Eastern flavor. Composer Steve Ricks made an impressive debut in conducting his piece entitled “Mild Violence,” and its music (written for sextet) did violently reflect the crash dummies and roadkill in the film.

Other works by Karim Al-Zand, Gyorgy Ligeti, Matthew Burtner, Gyorgy Kurtag, Morton Feldman, Robert Parris, Benedict Mason, Mary Wright, and Anton Webern received fine performances. Wright’s “Buttercup in Space” had a humorous element that nicely matched the video which depicted the composer’s dog Buttercup in space travel.


bob priest said...

James rightly perceives Kaija Saariaho as a wonderfully unique composer. She is close friends with Esa-Pekka Salonen and Magnus Lindberg. They all enjoy a close working relationship with stellar Finnish cellist, Anssi Karttunen.

The Finns are "taking over," and given the quality of their work, I don't mind. These are composers of deep talent who rarely cater to the superficial wham-bammisms of Hollywood-infused, clap-trap, pseudo-crossover composition styles like those employed by the likes of Tan Dun and other panderers of cotton-candy, technicolorist "exotica."

James Bash said...

Thanks for the comment Bob! I'll be be looking into Saariaho's music soon. Well, actually, I'm way behind; so it might be a while.