New York Music Daily

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Tag: ted hearne

Rage Against the Machine in the Former Belly of the Beast

In their sold-out concert at the Park Avenue  Armory Wednesday night, cutting-edge 24-member choral ensemble the Crossing delivered a breathtakingly virtuosic rebuke to anyone who might think that rage is not all the rage these days. The Armory dates back to the 19th century and is decorated throughout with high quality Civil War memorabilia. According to heraldic engravings in all sorts of precious metals, sixty-five of New York’s entitled classes died fighting to keep the Union together. It’s hardly a stretch to consider that their patriotism may have reflected less of an endorsement of civil liberties for all Americans, black and white, than the desire to keep sources of raw materials in the south safe in the grip of northern banksters.

Conductor Donald Nally’s choice to stage the group’s performance there was as daring as it was obvious. Each room utilized for the concert’s two sets is rich with natural reverb. in a proud tradition that goes back long before Laurie Anderson‘s legendary performances at the Armory, this was yet another reclamation of the space in the name of something other than killing.

Eight of the pieces on the program were New York premieres. The trio of cellists Thomas Mesa, Arlen Hlusko and Sujin Lee opened with the subtly shifting, hypnotically circling riffs of David Lang’s Depart as the crowd filed in. The singers then took their places one by one and treated the audience to a night of daunting counterpoint, playfully challenging extended technique, kaleidoscopic interplay and glistering, often achingly enveloping polyphony.

Central to the program were two breathtaking pieces by Gabriel Jackson. Our Flags Are Wafting in Hope and Grief, with its cleverly expanding cell-like phrases and dramatic cadenzas, brought to life Latvian writer Doris Koreva’s poem addressing a crucial, pivotal historical moment from which there can be no return. There’s cruel ambiguity in its flag imagery; the ensemble’s  emphatic intensity weighed in on the side of the perils of nationalism rather than potential triumphs.

The similarly circling first segment of Jackson’s Rigwreck could have been dispensed with, but the diptych’s second part was as gripping as it is relevant, connecting the dots from the question of eternal vigilance to its absence in both the BP Gulf oil spill catastrophe, and also our own relationships. The pinpoint precision of the group’s gusts underscored the grim cautionary tale in Pierre Joris’ text, a fervent wakeup call about the corporate interests and money culture that pollute individual lives as toxically as the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline were in 2010.

Kile Smith’s Conversation on the Mountain – from his suite Where Flames a Word – gave the choir a wide-open field for all sorts of deft, subtly baroque-inflected call-and-response that twinkled and sometimes burst from every corner of the stage. A brief premiere, by Louis Andriessen rose to anguished close harmonies. By contrast, the group got to let off some steam with Ted Hearne’s Animals, voicing an entire Nile riverbank bestiary with unleashed abandon and an undercurrent of Orwellian cynicism.

The choice of opening the second half of the concert with the knifes-edge close harmonies of Suzanne Giraud’s Johannisbaum instantly set the tone for the unease of the rest of the program, the cellists joined by a trio of soprano Abigail Chapman, mezzo-soprano Elisa Sutherland and a masterfully precise blonde woman whose image hasn’t yet made it to Google. Unfair as it is to single out a singer from a performance where selfless teamwork is so crucial, Sutherland’s soul-infused expressiveness and unselfconscious joie de vivre explain why she was front and center throughout much of the show.

There was also hypnotic, atmospheric rapture in Sebastian Currier’s Sanctus, from his Night Mass, and a final, wistfully precarious contemplation of our ongoing existence by Lang. Needless to say, it was a sobering idea to take home.

The Crossing’s next concert, on Sept 29 at 8 PM features indie classical chamber group International Contemporary Ensemble, with works by Hearne, Lang and Caroline Shaw at Montclair State University’s Kasser Theatre. Tix are $30; a $10 shuttle bus leaves from behind Port Authority about an hour and a half before the show. It’s about a 45-minute ride from Manhattan. 

Violinist Francesca Anderegg Hits the Road Running With Her New Album

Adventurous violinist Francesca Anderegg has a richly eclectic new roadtrip-themed album of mostly brand-new indie classical works, titled Wild Cities, just out and streaming at WQXR. She’s playing the album release show with pianist Brent Funderburk on July 12 at 8 PM at National Sawdust; advance tix are a good idea and are $25.

The first track, Remix, by Ryan Francis, opens with a maddeningly repetitive, syncopated violin riff that eventually shifts to the piano. It would have been impossibly easy for both Anderegg and Funderburk to loop it and take their time playing karaoke against it; to their credit, they don’t, as it winds down to an acerbic, purposeful spaciousness. Uh oh, then they’re off again! It has the same kind of high-voltage playfulness as Todd Reynolds’ recent work.

The album’s masterful centerpiece, Hannah Lash‘s achingly plaintive nocturne Adjoining, sets Anderegg’s emotively resonant, subtly vibrato-laden lines soaring over piano that blends Chopin prelude angst with more austerely starlit tonalities. Clint Needham‘s Kerouac-inspired diptych, On the Road builds quickly from a purposeful stroll to a jauntily skipping interlude that stops short of blithe; then the two voices reconfigure, pensively, down to still, mysterious ambience. The conclusion scampers and bustles with uneasy anticipation up to a surprise ending.

Ted Hearne‘s Nobody’s, for violin and percussion, starkly blends hints of Appalachian stepdancing music and insistent minimalism with challenging leaps to comet-trail harmonic cadenzas. Reinaldo Moya‘s four-part suite, Archipelago Imagined opens with darkly modal allusions – which could be Slavic, but actually draw on Andean music – and then weaves in and out, Anderegg’s violin bright and anxious over uneasily glitttering, waltzing piano. Part two subtly builds longscale, circling, Debussy-esque phrases within a predictable neoromantic rhythmic framework. Puckishly tongue-in-cheek, mathematically bouncing circular variations dominate the third movement, while the conclusion brings the piece full circle, a synthesis of the segments in turn. This is not an album about grandiose pyrotechnics but about camaraderie, and teamwork, and acerbity, and tunefulness, and ultimately good fun, all of which ought to translate live in National Sawdust’s magnificent sonics.

Ensemble Pamplemousse Explores a Monster’s Life

Last night at Issue Project Room Ensemble Pamplemousse performed Uncanny Valley, an electroacoustic narrative suite with music by five members of the ensemble: Jessie Marino, Andrew Greenwald, Dave Broome, Bryan Jacobs and Natacha Diels. The diversity of the suite’s four parts undoubtedly stems from having multiple composers involved, although the final two segments came together seamlessly despite a seismic thematic shift. The live ensemble onstage included Kiku Enomoto on violin, Marino on vocals, Broome shifting between piano and melodica plus Andrew Roitstein on bass, Michael Caterisano and Matt Donello on percussion, with Ted Hearne (composer of the extraordinary Katrina Ballads) somewhat blissfully seizing the opportunity to conduct the group.

This wasn’t tuneful music – other than the herky-jerky vocals in Marino’s introductory segment, which followed octave-sized leaps (don’t herky-jerky vocals always do that?), melody didn’t enter into this much if at all until the end. There was definitely an improvisatory angle, especially with the piano’s occasional bursts of free jazz atonality. Despite the absence of much if any traditional cohesive melodicism, the suite was entertaining, and obviously put together (whether prior to the concert or during) with considerable thought. It follows the story of a golem, one that’s eventually killed for entering “the region where robotic human replicas begin to emulate human characteristics too closely, causing revulsion in observers.” Except that the music seemed to follow the opposite trajectory, from human to mechanical and then rather stunningly back again. After all, there’s something indelibly human about fingersnaps: there’s no machine mathematically capable of doing them as erratically as the group onstage, or any other group of people could have done, to introduce the suite.

It took awhile to get going – Pamplemousse’s M.O. seems to be to build from the most elemental materials, as simply as possible – but after awhile the fun was contagious and just kept going from there. Marino’s intro built to an intricately, animatedly agile, rhythmic call-and-response replete with bursts of good humor, following an upward trajectory into Greenwald’s segment, where the poor beast is set loose in the world. Maybe because one of the composers (Diels) is a flutist, there was an overwhelming emphasis on higher frequencies – squeaks, clicks, creaks, peeps, the occasional swooping phrase or cry. As the piece went on, there was a gradual shift from treble, to a balance of lows and highs, to a sudden shift from staccato to sostenuto, and with that, to the lower registers. The effect of the strings’ sudden, insistent, judiciously interwoven tectonic shifts was richly rewarding, a fitting way for Jacobs to memorialize the poor monster.

There was also a multimedia element, which got lost. Maybe this was deliberate; maybe it was a function of sonic capabilities or lack thereof. It seemed a little incongruous to have a machine as part of the golem: was this particular golem humanoid? From what was being played back off the laptop, vocals included, it was as if it had a life, or an imitation of one, that was completely separate from what the musicians were playing. And while the visual component wasn’t unpleasant, it didn’t add anything – which simply affirms how entertaining, and suspenseful, the music was. Ensemble Pamplemousse’s next multi-composer concert is December 17 at 8 PM at the AC Institute, 547 W 27th St, 6th floor.