There are several annual festivals dedicated to new orchestral and chamber music in New York, but no organization casts a wider net than Ensemble Mise-En. Over the past few years, they’ve championed some of the best obscure composers from around the world and resurrected others whose work has been undeservedly forgotten. Last night at Scandinavia House, an expanded edition of the group played a marathon conclusion to their annual festival. The first half was a characteristically rare treat.
The first piece of the night was the world premiere of João Quinteiro‘s Energeia, with Yoon Jae Lee conducting an octet of strings, winds and percussion. Assembled from a vast series of flitting, momentary motives, it became all but impossible to figure out who was playing what, Just when an idea hinted that it would coalesce, it was gone. The two percussionists, Josh Perry and Chris Graham, had a blast, their whirs and buzzes and a momentary, thunderous boom from a large collection of strikable items punctuating a dancing, flickering parade of fragmentary imagery. That put everyody in a good mood.
The night’s piece de resistance was the American premiere of Seoul-based Yie Eun Chun‘s Urban Symphony, Lee conducting a fifteen-piece ensemble throughout its striking, cinematic, whirlwind cinematic shifts. A portrait of the composer’s home turf, it evoked the noir bustle of Charles Mingus, the persistent unease of Messiaen, a little circular Steve Reich in the background along with Miho Hazama at her most majestic. Insistent, kinetic riffage that rose to frantic levels and a creepy chase scene midway through contrasted with tense, minimalist call-and-response over a pulse that began on the cowbell and then made its way through less comedically evocative instruments. It flickered out calmly at the end: peace had finally come to the city. It’s hard to imagine a more consistently thrilling new orchestral work played anywhere in this city this year: it deserves a vast audience.
Another consistently gripping if somewhat quieter composition was another American premiere, Peder Barratt-due‘s microtonal duet ldfleur. Violists Anna Heflin and Hannah Levinson brought its spare, determined unresolve into sharp, sometimes disquieting, sometimes jaunty focus with their dynamic interplay, down to whispery harmonics and then back.
The coda of the first half of the marathon – which was scheduled to run late into the night – was the world premiere of Martin Loridan‘s Concerto pour Piano et Ensemble. Windy, toneless gusts filtered in from the winds and horns, to the violins – watching Marina Im and Sabina Torosjan blow into their instruments was ridiculously funny, considering how meticulously they would articulate the composer’s calm, hovering lines afterward. Pianist Yumi Suehiro’s grim, fanged, revolving phrases, both on the keys and inside the piano, contrasted with that hazy sustain, first from the strings and then the rest of the full ensemble. If Reich had ever wanted to write theme music for a Halloween haunted house, this could have been it.
This was it for the Mise-En Festival, but the group maintains a year-round schedule, both at their home digs in Bushwick and points further from the dreaded L train.