A Sampler of Sounds in NYC by Either/Or

United StatesUnited States  Cage/Neuhaus, George Lewis, Elliott Sharp, Rebecca Saunders, Grisey: Either/Or, The Kitchen, New York City, 27.4.2012 (BH)

John Cage/Max Neuhaus: Fontana Mix Feed (1958/1963)
George Lewis
: Thistledown (2012)
Elliott Sharp
: Venus & Jupiter (2012, world premiere)
Rebecca Saunders
: stirrings still (2005, New York premiere)
Gérard Grisey
: Périodes (1974)

Aaron Baird: bass
Richard Carrick: piano, percussion, conductor
Stephanie Griffin: viola
Conrad Harris: violin
Pauline Kim Harris: viola
Margaret Lancaster: flutes
Chris McIntyre: trombone
Esther Noh: violin
Carl Oswald: oboe, english horn
Josh Rubin: clarinets
Elliott Sharp: electroacoustic guitar
David Shively: percussion, electronics
Alex Waterman: cello

On the second night of its spring festival at the Kitchen, Either/Or gave a handsomely programmed, vibrantly played sampler of its eclectic aesthetic concerns, with five very different approaches to sound. John Cage’s Fontana Mix, performed here by David Shively, consists of a set of instructions and is designed to be different each time. Max Neuhaus’s Feed is a study of feedback, facilitated by microphones attached to percussion instruments. Here, the hybrid of the two was interesting primarily as a historical artifact (if slightly too loud, especially the higher frequencies), but the point seemed to be to galvanize the evening with an exploration of “pure” sound—like starting off with an etude—before showing how others have organized it.

George Lewis’s Thistledown presents a chain of rhythmic charges and sandpapery textures, with connecting tissue that feels derived from jazz. The ending was particularly striking, with the ensemble in soft scrapings augmented by maracas, all of which are suddenly cut off at the end. With his new piece, Venus & Jupiter, Elliott Sharp wowed the crowd with a seething metropolis of dense textures, punctuated by pinpoint flickering from the flute (Margaret Lancaster), clarinet (Josh Rubin) and Mr. Sharp’s guitar. His charging rhythms, constantly mashing into each other, made arresting listening. And with a small nod to Webern in her graceful islands of sound, Rebecca Saunders placed five musicians around the room for stirrings still, its low timbres gently overlapping like dark waves lapping the shore, each time bearing new meanings.

To close, Richard Carrick conducted a compelling performance of Gérard Grisey’s classic Périodes, the second segment of Les espaces acoustiques. For seven players, it is one of the composer’s earliest spectral explorations, with a refulgent conclusion in which the instrumentalists play a delicate overtone scale over and over—each seemingly detonated by aggressive stabs on the double bass. Aaron Baird had honors on the latter, bowing each stroke as a ferocious, primal howl.

Bruce Hodges