Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Chamber Music Northwest’s New@Noon celebrates multimedia music

One thing you can count on whenever you combine music and video in a live performance, is that the audience never coughs. I first experienced this phenomenon at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition where a camera on a boom arm swept silently above the orchestra and soloists during the final rounds, and I’ve witnessed the multimedia combination at many other concerts since. So, when CMNW’s New@Noon series celebrated sound and visual imagery on Friday, July 22nd, at Lincoln Recital Hall, there was no coughing at all from the audience and everyone seemed to be thoroughly engaged in each piece, all of which were new.

The newness kicked off with “Every tendril, a wish” by Bonnie Miksch. Miksch, the chair of the music department at Portland State University, wrote the piece in 2007 for her son who was nine months old. The title refers to a poem that Miksch penned, and she read to the audience before the performance began. Its words painted a picture that could be described as a joyful lullaby. Miksch then sang the poem while accompanied by electroacoustic music and live interactive graphics that were controlled by Christopher Penrose, who sat at a laptop just a few feet from Miksch. Penrose altered the graphical imagery that was projected on a screen just behind Miksch, responding to the dynamics of Miksch’s singing. Using very little vibrato, her soprano voice was attractive and emotive, but most of the text was buried by the loud electronic accompaniment. The projected graphics consisted of geometric patterns that constantly changed. They seemed oddly cool and objective whereas the lyrics were warm and very subjective.

Jaroslaw Kapuschinski’s “Juicy” took a slightly different tack. This piece (written in 2009) interactively related music for piano with a video that was controlled by computer software. The software would react on the fly to the dynamics from the piano, which was played by Melvin Chen. The piece had six movements – all of which were centered on fruit. So the audience enjoyed round red and green floating across the screen in the “Citrus Duet” section. The “Kiwi” movement featured slices of kiwi that slowly rotated. Sometimes the music drifted along in a Satie-like fashion and at other times, it became complete abstract. The “Blueberries” episode was riddled with real gunfire as each blueberry – lined up in rows – was struck and went kersplat. That movement, according to the composer, was meant to bring a bit of reality into the performance. The video, which used stop-motion techniques was created by John Edmark, was mostly tranquil and restive – except for the jolt of gunfire.

The final piece on the program, “Einstein’s Light” offered a more traditional kind of music and film experience except that the music, written by Bruce Adolphe in 2015 for piano and violin, was created first and the video second. The piece, in five movements, showed the love the Einstein had for music, in particular the music of Mozart and Bach. The context of the music was then interpreted visually by Nickolas Barris with images of light beams, galaxies, objects flying through space, vast landscapes, clips of WWI battles (the time when Einstein developed the theory of relativity, famous quotes from Einstein, and images of Einstein. Among the music-related quotes from Einstein, one of the best was “My discoveries are the result of music perception.”

The piano part, played by Adolphe, often had a light, ethereal texture, while the violin part, played by Jennifer Frautschi, seemed more prominent – especially when waxing lyrical. Maybe that was because Einstein enjoyed playing the violin. In any case, the piece as a whole was a lyrical exploration of sorts that gave the audience plenty to think about.

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