Thursday, November 5, 2015

FearNoMusic’s Halloween concert raises spirits

From the score of "General Speech"
New music showed its lighter side on Halloween afternoon at Mississippi Studios. That’s where members of FearNoMusic donned special garb to play works by Robert Erickson, Michael Daugherty, and George Crumb. The hour-long program definitely had a tongue-in-cheek ambiance that was heightened by many audience members who were dressed for the occasion.

Decked out in a khaki army outfit, trombonist Robert Taylor walked stiffly to his appointed music stand to play Erickson’s “General Speech.” Based on the farewell speech given by General Douglas MacArthur at West Point Military Academy in 1962, “General Speech” allows the performer to replicate MacArthur’s speech with the trombone. Taylor placed all of the tones in the medium and low baritone range with some fading into the low bass. The patterns were deliberate and slow. Some glissandos slid into the basement. Along the way, he took a measured break to drink to water from a glass on a table that was positioned nearby. Taylor also delivered some hiccups, burbs, and coughs before ending the piece with a final blast. The piece had an odd yet solemn quality, and it made me wonder what a speech by Hillary Clinton or another famous female might sound like.

Daugherty’s “Sinatra Shag” was a lively sendup of a Las Vegas lounge act. The sight of lead-violinist Inés Voglar Belgique sporting a blonde wig with white boots and a leather-dress a la Nancy Sinatra was flat-out hilarious. Cellist Nancy Ives, flutist Amelia Lukas, and pianist Monica Ohuchi appeared in butterflies-are-free outfits while drummer Joel Bluestone and bass clarinetist Louis DeMartino opted not to participate in any kind of unusual getup. Musically speaking, Ives laid down the rhythmic substratum that was augmented by flute, percussion, and bass clarinet while Voglar Belgique shredded several licks in the upper register of the violin. Perhaps the playing could have been more loosey-goosey, but overall, it was an enjoyable contrast to the uptight Erickson number.

After a brief costume parade by Halloween-inspired members of the audience, Lukas, Ives, and Ouchi performed Crumb’s “Vox Balaenae” (“Voice of the Whale”), using electric flute, electric cello, and amplified piano. The half-black masks that the performers wore and the blue-lighting were a required by Crumb for performing the piece. Also necessary was a retuning of Ive’s cello that, I have to admit, created all sorts of sea-gull and whale-like sounds. She also rendered whistling tones, squiggly, wiggly sequences and slightly twangy tones. Lukas sang into her flute and made a number of piercing sforzando-like sounds. Ohouchi strummed the strings of the piano and played notes that were dampened down by objects placed on the strings. Some of her sounds seemed near and others from a great distance. The piece, with its eight movements – five of which are named after geologic periods like Mesozoic and Cenozoic – had a serious quality that was enhanced by the quiet, restful ending.

Hmm…. perhaps next year, FearNoMusic could do some spooky numbers.

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