From Darmstadt, With Love
United States Adámek, Billone, Dillon: Talea Ensemble, Bohemian National Hall, New York City, 21.9.2012 (BH)
Ondřej Adámek: Ça Tourne Ça Bloque (2008, US premiere)
Pierluigi Billone: Dike Wall (2012, US premiere)
James Dillon: New York Triptych (2012, US premiere)
Erik Carlson, violin
Ben Russell, violin
Elizabeth Weisser, viola
Chris Gross, cello
Doug Balliett, bass
Barry Crawford, flute
Arthur Sato, oboe
Rane Moore, clarinet
Adrian Morejon, bassoon
Steven Beck, piano
Alex Lipowski, percussion
David Adamcyk, electronics
James Baker, conductor
Opening its new season with a concert at Bohemian National Hall, the Talea Ensemble offered three striking United States premieres—the same program it performed at the 2012 Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music—and each could not have been more unlike its neighbors. For his Ça Tourne Ça Bloque, Czech composer Ondřej Adámek (b. 1979) taped three people speaking (two French, one Japanese), whose sampled voices became the work’s spine. The words—combined with clever, bubby music—were synchronized, traveling like excited insects across a large screen above the ensemble. Adámek’s eclecticism is startling and delightful; Mahlerian marches rub elbows with chugging ostinatos in a constantly percolating buzz. Amid the crisp performance, there was even a sequence in which a jazz mirage briefly appeared, with bassist Doug Balliett and percussionist Alex Lipowski suddenly shifting into a mellow groove.
Radically different is Pierluigi Billone’s Dike Wall, written for the ensemble and Mr. Lipowski. Billone’s esthetic is quietly uncompromising—notable for its unadornment—and often explores sound qualities inherent in basic materials. In past concerts, Lipowski has performed Billone’s homage to the spring drum (Mani.Mano, 2007), and a fascinating meditation for automobile springs and glass (Mani.de Leonardis, 2004). Here the percussionist took the stage wearing a gong on his chest, and then banged, scraped and knocked the instrument with two metal cups, as some of his colleagues offered spare accompaniment and other percussion instruments came into play. Many of the sounds were extremely subtle; the composer requires extreme quietude and patience to properly appreciate his austere sound world. While I admire Billone’s intensity—and purity—the ideas here seemed to wear thin over the mostly quiet 25-minute span. But the concentration on display from Lipowski and the ensemble was riveting.
Navigating the hallucinatory scores of James Dillon can seem like swimming in a vast sea of objects—shiny baubles, edgy debris and silent slicks of unknown chemicals. Dillon’s New York Triptych is no exception, coming after The Leuven Triptych (2008-09) and Oslo/Triptych (2010-11), with dense activity and textures that are—at least to these ears—virtually impossible to assimilate completely on an initial hearing. New York Triptych opens with shrieks and flutters in a roiling mass of activity—mostly complex but startling the ears with moments of unexpected simplicity, before a handful of notes, seemingly casually tossed aside, ends part one. The second section begins with a swirling block of piano and strings—a psychedelic swirl of oboe interrupted by spasms. Just when you think the group is idling, a sequence leaps into your path like a surprised burglar, and to end it all, the density ultimately yields to quiet heartbeats on low keyboard pitches. In the final section, a fractured march on the piano turns into a steady andante (at least, for awhile), accumulating details along the way. Clouds of glockenspiel, high piano and strings swarm like hummingbirds, as an old recording of Marcel Duchamp adds even more mystery to the peaceful ending. In Talea’s hands—artfully, patiently led by conductor James Baker—listening to Dillon became an exhausting experience, but also a supernaturally beautiful, even transformative one.