Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jeff Kowalkowski's Review of Concert #67

I immediately recognized the textbook counterpoint as I entered the Green Mill. The sound of the flute and oboe playing Intermissions was wonderful! My first thought was that this composer has studied counterpoint! It is true, John Weinzwig was Patrica Morehead’s favorite harmony teacher at the University of Toronto.

Andrew Gallovich pitch mapped Let It Be in an awesome manner, to my ear it sounded tri-tonal, as if individual tracks from a pop-sheen basement studio build-up were detuned slightly in both directions (up and/or down). His beautiful mix sounded magnificent through the monophonic system at the Green Mill. It is what Ives might have done if he had Pro-Tools. I felt the song was a powerful choice, in terms of the recontextualization into polytonality. After listening to a Gallovich piece, “normal” music in standard tunings sounds dull.

Marcos Balter’s Memoria featured Russell Rolen on cello, with his intimidating display of bow technique! Rolen rivals bassist Stefano Scodanibbio in his mastery of the subtleties of harmonics both natural and artificial. Memoria is truly an excellent piece, the formal construction is evident upon first hearing. Balter has an incredible knowledge of contemporary string techniques, but the music does not sound overly calculated, instead it is very soulful.

Extreme registers of the alto flute are beautiful sounds! Caroline Pittman is a master floutist. The tri-tone theme in Robert Lombardo’s Dark Side of the Moon sounded mesmerizing. This piece sounded like a classic, in league with: syrinx or density 21.5….

Joanie Pallatto’s sad and beautiful songs moved me very much, broke me out of my selfish head. Her songs are very real to me: “my city shines” “private detective as fat as his gun” “selling streetwise with a grin” Foxtrot-Sondheim soliloquy songs, Brill building songs about age-ing and homelessness. Sparrow played the exultant continuo….

Tom Steven’s Suspension Fantasy displayed his precise, gentle, and clear keyboard technique in a rondo format. The piece runs a gauntlet of refrences to my ear: Brubeck, Rzewski, Fats Waller, Danny Elfman, Lou Harrison, Satie, Meredith Monk, big band breaks, extended octave unison lines, and even some radical mood changes in the spirit of C.P.E. Bach.

Janice Misurell-Mitchell Rocket-ed-dah-baby with this historical enactment of the lecture-performance genre. A channeling of Schwitters/Berbarian, this was just as refreshing as it was in 1995 when the work was first composed. Janice is a master performer, amazing vocal range, extremely precise ear for interval inflection, shape-shifting facial expressions and gestures. Like a musical Zelig for each situation in the score, she ridicules the Ready to ROCK mantra. This piece got the most visceral reactions from the audience, it is undoubtedly very funny at times, and scary at other times. You wonder if she is stuttering, or perhaps possessed! It reminded me vaguely of the shaman-performances that Sam Ashley was doing in the late 1990s, or the extreme vocal solos of Jaap Blonk.

Lone Monad (Don Malone), my favorite DJ on the planet, entertained us while we took a cake break. I would like Don to do an entire set at the Green Mill at some point, perhaps with some live musicians thrown in the mix? Put it on the list for next year!

Nina Corwin “my unquenchable hope hums along as I nail it to the wall” “like a soiled baby on the welcome mat, screaming for change”—This duo of Nina and Bill Harrison (Bass Magician!) was a complete joy to listen to. The virtuosic beat poetry, which reminded me (distantly) of Dick Buckley, captivated me. The commitment of the performers was obvious, and appreciated. The line is blurred between poet/composer—an ancient ideal. Janice Misurell-Mitchell joined in on the third song with impeccable microtonal flute lines in response to Nina’s speech-song delivery.

Tim Bowlby’s Just One More Time was expertly performed by Alicia Tate (the first woman to receive a doctorate in English Horn performance from Juliard). This angular oboe solo requires considerable trill dexterity. The disjunct melodies in extreme registers resemble bird-song in the regularity of phrasing and the pauses which occur at regular paces. The snake-like melodies expand in contrary motion, and the piece evokes a fanfare mood.

August Read Thomas’ D(i)agon(als) was then played by Cory Tiffin, a virtuoso clarinetist, who made the piece sound easy! Especially impressive was the final pitch in the very highest register of the clarinet, this note rang out with total confidence. The title reflects the shapes you find while listening, gradual unfolding lines (contrary motion), like jagged diagonals, sound like the shape a bird might make in casual flight. Sudden launches into melismas, and extreme octave displacement is combined with unexpected dynamic contrasts. If Weinzweig’s duo is exemplary counterpoint, Thomas’ solo is masterful textbook melodic writing.

Kathleen Ginther’s Epousailles had only one flaw. It was too short! Having expert musicians Julia Bentley and Claudia Lassareff-Mironoff for only one short song was like arriving at the theater only to find that the show is sold out. I would have liked to hear an entire collection of these beautiful settings for voice and viola., or the entire cycle with flute and harp. Maybe next year Kathleen??

George Flynn’s Flamboyance was performed by Frank Abbinanti and Eliza Bangert with an impressive calm precision. Once again, the players make these pieces look easy! George’s signature tri-chord keeps echoing throughout the piece, interrupted by his unique mercurial canonic alchemy. It seems to me that George’s technique can be re-cast using any combination of instruments and/or voices. His sonic fingerprints are unmistakeable.

The oldest piece on the program, George Crumb’s Gnomic Variations, was written for Jeffrey Jacob in 1981 and performed at the Green Mill to end this concert. Jeffrey mentioned that many people feel this is Crumb’s best work for solo piano, and he should know--he has recorded every piece in Crumb’s catalogue. As I am a collector of garden gnomes, I was saddened to learn that Crumb’s intended reference in the title was “gnomic: an embedded idea that is very large, contained in a pithy phrase.” I wanted to see the little elfins running around in the yard. However, while listening to the performance, the structural philosophy became evident; the alternate meaning of gnomic became clear. Jeffrey’s ability to play inside the piano, just as proficiently as he plays on the keys, made this piece seem like a duo for one performer, or a duo for harp and piano. His control of the harmonics, plucked/auto-harp techniques, Cowell clusters, and muted strings struck with the keys was ear-opening. I would have to look at the score, but I sensed that this piece may be palindromic on some level, with thematic shapes returning in opposite registers/timbres. Jeffrey Jacobs is truly a world-class performer, with piano technique of impressive depth and accuracy. I hope he returns to New Music at the Green Mill with his own music! Indiana is not far away…….

Thursday, January 14, 2010

66th concert--Sunday, January 17

Sun Jan 17, 2010

66th in a series

$5 cover

featuring performances and/or compositions by:
Frank Abbinanti
Eliza Bangert
Mark Baldin
Marcos Balter
Tim Bowlby
Nina Corwin
George Crumb
George Flynn
Andrew Gallovich
Kathleen Ginther
Joanna Jamroziak
Jeffrey Jacobs
Luis Kinugawa
Eric Malmquist
Don Malone
Janice Misurell-Mitchell
Pat Morehead
Joanie Pallatto
Russell Rolen
Bradley Parker Sparrow
Tom Stevens
Alicia Tait