Monday, February 13, 2017

Third Angle traverses spiritual paths with Pärt-infused concert

Photo credit: Jacob Wade
Before any music was played, the words projected onto the back wall of an intimate concert hall stated “Silence is the pause in me when I am near God.” That is not the typical kind of statement that one sees on any wall in Portland, Oregon, but it really set the tone for the concert given by Third Angle New Music Ensemble that I heard on Thursday, February 9th of Studio 2. The words were quoted from the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, whose spiritually-inspired music was celebrated during a week-long festival in Portland, sponsored by Cappella Romana. Third Angle’s program, cleverly entitled Pärt and Pärcel,” featured three works by Pärt plus works by two young Estonian composers: Marianna Liik, and Tõnu Kõrvits.

Pärt’s music often uses a style that he calls Tintinnabulation in which the notes of a triad are maintained in slow arpeggios or drones while other voices unfold melodies on the notes of the scale. One of his most famous pieces, “Spiegel im Spiegel” (Mirror in the Mirror”), as played by violinist Ron Blessinger and pianist Susan DeWitt Smith showed off this style perfectly, creating a slow moving yet almost weightless atmosphere with notes rising and falling around each other until they beautifully faded away.

Featuring the Tintinnabuli-style, “Fratres” (“Brethren”), was also given a mesmerizing performance by cellist Marilyn de Oliviera and pianist Smith. De Oliviera wonderfully negotiated a whipsaw series of notes while Smith evoked chime-like tones from the piano. The combination sounded ancient and contemporary at the same time and was breathtakingly serene.
Photo credit: Jacob Wade
Pauses played a big part at the beginning of Pärt’s “Mozart-Adagio,” a piece that fuses his Tintinnabuli-style with a theme from the “Adagio” movement of Mozart’s Sonata in F Major (K. 280). Performed with grace by Blessinger, de Oliviera, and Smith, the “Mozart-Adagio” was a delightfully arresting, especially the places where dissonant notes met.

Pärt’s fame and influence is probably unavoidable for any young composer growing up in Estonia. “Kulgemine” (“Wending”), written in 2012 by Marianna Liik for piano and electronics was very atmospheric, tending away from warm colors to something cooler. Perhaps the bell-like tones that Smith created at the keyboard added to that effect. The electronically-generated sounds became loud and fairly threatening – as if a huge cloud had rolled into the room. By the time it dissipated the music acquired an hypnotic, timeless quality so that the end-effect was similar to Pärt’s.

To close the concert, Blessinger, de Oliviera, and Smith played Tõnu Kõrvits’s “Head ööd (“Good Night”). The piece had a melancholic undercurrent that slipped from sighs to anguished shudders. Sometimes the air would clear and the mood would lighten a bit – with feathery-light moments suggesting a pleasant journey ahead.
Photo credit: Jacob Wade
All of the instrumentalists deserved kudos for their sensitive playing, yet Smith was the real anchor for the evening. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait long for another round of Pärt. Blessinger, Artistic Director of Third Angle, will give us the pärticulars in the near future.

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