“Multiple Modernisms” by New York’s spunky counter)induction

November 10, 2011

United StatesUnited States Davidovsky, Babbitt, Bartlett, Feldman, Boulez, Scelsi, Webern: Matthew Levy (guest saxophone), counter)induction, Tenri Cultural Institute, New York City. 30.10.2011 (BH) 

Mario Davidovsky: Quartetto #4 (2005)
Milton Babbitt: Whirled Series (1987)
Kyle Bartlett: La figure se brûle (1997)
Morton FeldmanFour Instruments (1975)
Pierre Boulez: Anthèmes I (1991)
Giacinto Scelsi: Tre Pezzi (1928)
Anton Webern: Quartet, Op. 22 (1928)


Benjamin Fingland, clarinets
Miranda Cuckson, violin
Jessica Meyer, viola
Sumire Kudo, cello
Steven Beck, piano
Kyle Bartlett, composer
Douglas Boyce, composer
Ryan Streber, composer
Matthew Levy, saxophone (guest artist)


A full house was on hand for Multiple Modernisms, an evening of (mostly) late 20th-century chamber music treats, served up by counter)induction at Tenri Cultural Institute. Although by odd coincidence, the seven pieces clocked in at about nine minutes each, most similarities ended there.

Mario Davidovsky’s Quartetto #4 is designed to be a study in contrasts, with a clarinet spiking a violin, viola and cello. In practice, it seems almost like a mini-tone poem, with more vibrancy per square inch than in some works three times its length. The four instruments seem scurrying on independent paths; just when the three strings surge forward, the clarinet begins to relax, and vice-versa. Benjamin Fingland (clarinet), Miranda Cuckson (violin), Jessica Meyer (viola) and Sumire Kudo (cello) made the strong, attentive foursome. Similar unpredictability surges through Milton Babbitt’s Whirled Series, for saxophone and piano, given pungency and drive by Matthew Levy (of the Prism Quartet) and Steven Beck.

An early piece by Kyle Bartlett, La figure se embrûle, grew from her fascination with disappearance, and showed Mr. Beck’s fluency with a Debussy-like idiom. It made a fine bridge to the subtle Feldman Four Instruments (piano, violin, viola and cello) that followed, marked “extremely quiet” – which it was, gracefully, and with an energy quite different from the composer’s longer musings.

After intermission came Ms. Cuckson in Boulez’s virtuosic Anthèmes I, seven short sections of trills, harmonics and glissandos. Boulez packs in such concentrated energy that his score seems much longer than it actually is, and one could only marvel at how easily Cuckson seemed to breathe its rarified air. Mr. Levy returned for Giacinto Scelsi’s Tre Pezzi, inspired by the composer’s explorations on an Ondiola, an Italian electronic keyboard with the ability to produce microtones. Levy’s tenor sax beautifully sculpted its obsessive, introverted qualities. Anton Webern’s Quartet for clarinet, tenor saxophone, violin and piano (interestingly from the same year as the Scelsi) is a gorgeous, two-movement example of his aphoristic style. Mr. Fingland, Mr. Levy, Ms. Cuckson and Mr. Beck not only gave it a highly polished reading, but added that sometimes indefinable excitement that accompanies a world premiere – not bad for a piece written over eighty years ago.

Bruce Hodges

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