Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Exciting New Works featured at CMNW's Protege Project Club Concert

Andy Akiho demonstrates the steel drum. Photo: Jim Leisy

The scene at Mississippi Studios is a bit different than your standard Chamber Music Northwest setting...after all it's essentially a bar with a small auditorium attached. Wooden, wing-leafed flying guitars and ukeleles decorate the wall, which is covered in dragon-fly speckled cloth. A drum on the wall proclaims the Castro Parlor as State Champs from 1958-1961. I don't know what that is but should I try to look it up? I pondered this over my next vodka tonic and never did bother to investigate. Instead I settled in for one of CMNW's Protege Project Club Concerts.

Composer and performer Andy Akiho was on hand for this performance, which opened with a solo steel drum composition entitled Aka. Akiho is a fresh-faced, enthusiastic young performer who was excited to be in Portland for the first time, and thanked everyone profusely before inviting audience members up to get a closer look at the lone steel drum that reflected the spotlight in a blinding glare. The piece opened with a mellifluous, muted trilling that turned into a syncopated tapping on the rim, interwoven with complex harmonic rhythms. This piece essentially amounted to a brilliant, prestissimo toccata, showcasing his incredible skill on the instrument, which featured a surprising range of dynamics, exploited masterfully by Akiho.

Camden Shaw, Yekwon Sunwoo, Joel Link. Photo: Jim Leisy
His second work of the evening was a piano trio featuring Yekwon Sunwoo, piano, Joel Link, cello, and Camden Shaw on violin.  The first movement featured a prepared piano, and Sunwoo was called upon to play scritching glissandi on the piano strings themselves with a playing card, accompanied by eerie sul ponticello wailing from the strings.  The next movement featured a jazzy, straight-forward bebop pizzicato from the cello that was like a passacaglia, which came to a sudden stop and revealed Sunwoo standing and playing arpeggios. The movement felt almost improvised, and just when it felt like it was about to go on too long it stopped dead.  A weird, cerebral modal section was followed by a finale focused heavily on a syncopated, shifting rhythmic dissimilation, not surprising coming from a percussionist. Throughout the work melody, when it did appear, was straightforward and appealing, a brief and refreshing change from the experimental mode of the work. This was an exciting composition, and it came from a young composer with a lot to say.

Ida Kavafian and the Dover Quartet. Photo: Jim Leisy
Sunwoo played a competent campanella by Liszt, and the finale was the Concerto in D-Major by French romantic composer Ernest Chausson. They were joined by Ida Kavafian and the Dover String Quartet. There was a nice repartee between Kavafian and Link, a warm and intimate tune that felt like sitting in a fin-de-siecle French parlour. The entire performance conveyed a feeling of lush sensuality, a captivating and moody exposition, occasionally interrupted by cacophonous exclamations. Kavafian's solo work was exciting and impassioned as always, and in all it was a rich and sonorous feast for the senses.

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