Water, Water Everywhere with Cellist Madeleine Shapiro

United StatesUnited States  “Water at the Tank,” Works for Cello and Electronics: Modernworks, Madeleine Shapiro (cello), The Tank, New York City, 26.4.2012 (BH)

Richard Johnson/traditional: Water Meditation on Etenraku (2010, New York premiere)
Matthew Burtner
: Fragments from Cold (2005)
Tom Williams
: Dart (2012, World premiere)
Juraj Kojs
: The Wetland (2010)
Ferdinando De Sena
: Fracked (2012, World premiere)
Gayle Young
: Avalon Shorelines (2011)

“Thousands have lived without love, none without water,” is the powerful Auden quote cellist Madeleine Shapiro used to introduce her program of environmentally-oriented works at the Tank. Opening with Richard Johnson’s serene, meditative Water Meditation on Etenraku, Shapiro combined a mournful folk song with the faint “ploinks” of dripping water. A number of composers featured used other natural phenomena as sonic inspiration, including Matthew Burtner, whose Fragments from Cold actually feels frigid, thanks to the sound of swooshing wind combined with the cello. And Canadian composer Gayle Young recorded waves and rock sounds in Newfoundland for Avalon Shorelines, which made an appealingly hypnotic effect when fused with Shapiro’s light touch.

I wish I’d enjoyed Fracked more, by Ferdinando De Sena. The subject is hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a., “fracking”) of rock formations to release petroleum—a procedure condemned by environmentalists for its grave damage to the water supply. Worthy as the sentiment is (and many, if not all, in the audience were sympathetic), the piece seemed unable to transmit much of a political point of view. (I’m not sure how effective this medium would be for this type of environmental commentary.)

But other scores were more successful, including Tom Williams’s Dart, derived from a river of the same name in England. Written for cello and digital delay, a fiery opening leads to a more placid section before the turbulence returns—not a bad metaphor for a substantial, perhaps even violent body of water. And Juraj Kojs, from Slovakia, contributed The Wetland, which Shapiro has rightly championed. It’s a strong work, using electronic sounds and filled with many extended techniques for the instrument; often Shapiro could be seen tapping around the cello’s bridge and along the sides, or rubbing the strings to produce an array of glassy, brittle sounds. From the vigorous response at the end, the full house at the Tank liked Shapiro’s environmental emphasis; but then, nature and music are never far apart.

Bruce Hodges