Whispering or Yelling, Young Composers Tell It

United StatesUnited States  MATA Festival, Concerts I and V: “Curiouser and Curiouser” and “Incomparable Contrivances”: Curious Chamber Players (April 14), Talea Ensemble (April 18), The Kitchen, New York City. 14/18.4.2015 (BH)

April 14
Carlos Gutiérrez Quiroga: Jintili (2012)
Tomi Räisänen: Stheno (2006)
Todd Tarantino: …all words are already decided (2011-2015)
Malin Bâng: palinode (2013)
Johan Svensson: diamond dust (2013)
Wang Lu: Urban Inventory (2015, MATA commission)

Curious Chamber Players
Hannah Törnell Wettermark (flute)
Dries Tack (clarinet)
Karin Hellqvist (violin)
My Hellgren (cello)
Anna Christensson (piano)
Frederick Munk Larsen (guitar)
Rei Munakata (conductor)

April 18
Dan VanHassel: Ghost in the Machine (2013)
Matthias Kranebitter: packthebox(withfivedozenofmyliqourjugs) (2013)
Davot Branimir Vincze: Inflection Point (2011-13)
Ann Cleare: eōl (2015, MATA Festival commission)
Ofir Klemperer: A Love Song (2007)
Sam Pluta: Machine Language (2012)

Talea Ensemble
Barry Crawford (flute)
Rane Moore (clarinet)
Marianne Gythfeldt (clarinet)
Stuart Breczinski (oboe)
Michael Ibrahim (saxophone)
Timothy Albright (trombone)
Stephen Gosling (piano)
Alex Lipowski (percussion)
Ian Antonio (percussion)
Russell Greenberg (percussion)
Erik Carlson (violin)
Sunghae Anna Lim (violin)
Elizabeth Weisser (viola)
Chris Gross (cello)
Gregory Chudzik (bass)
William Schimmel (accordion)
David Adamcyk (electronics)
James Baker (conductor)

Though I was only able to attend two of this year’s MATA Festival concerts at the Kitchen, their combined impact made me wish I had gone to all the others. (Especially sorry I had to miss the concert with a work for eight lamps.) In the starry world of New York’s dense new music universe, MATA’s choices (led by its artistic director, Du Yun) immediately jerk you to attention. Whether all have lasting value is a valid question, but while you’re listening, that issue seems irrelevant.

On the Tuesday concert, Sweden’s Curious Chamber Players made their United States debut (MATA also has a knack for introducing U.S. audiences to unfamiliar, yet worthy ensembles), with a notably quiet program called “Curiouser and Curiouser.” For a moment, imagine a porch on a fragrant summer night, immersed in a soundtrack of crickets and birds. That is what Bolivian composer Carlos Gutiérrez Quiroga dreamed up with Jintili (2012), which made a startling opening. With the ensemble on tiny, traditional Andean instruments (Quiroga is affiliated with the Orquiestra Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos in La Paz), one could sense the audience trying not to breathe too loudly, interrupting the unexpected reverie.

One theme that emerged from the two nights is music without pitch, explicitly acknowledged by Tomi Räisänen, whose Stheno (2006) is for guitar and recorders. The former is strummed and struck as a percussion instrument, and the latter have been disassembled to function as air conduits. Vocalization from the performers completed the tableaux.

Todd Tarantino (also MATA’s Executive Director), jumped into this game with …all words are already decided (2011-2015) for a quintet led by Rei Munakata. Exploring the boundaries between speech and silence, Tarantino used microtones, sometimes asking musicians to adjust their tuning at the same time notes were being played, and he included an exciting barrage for pianist Anna Christensson.

Malin Bâng (who is married to Mr. Munakata) created often diaphanous effects in palinode (2013), using exhalations and friction. She adopted objects from three Berlin locations to trigger memory, including—among other imaginative things—a wooden plank grazed by knives and sandpaper. Also flirting with the threshold of hearing was diamond dust (2013) by Johan Svensson, for piano, alto flute and cello. With a damped keyboard, the cellist bowing spiccato, and the flutist lightly depressing keys, the result was fidgety and delicate.

Public parks in the Chinese city of Xi’an inspired Wang Lu to create Urban Inventory (2015, commissioned by MATA), for ensemble and an elaborate soundtrack that included dogs barking, prayer rituals, crowd noises, even (near the end) the sounds of houses being demolished. Wang’s elegant writing captured the constant froth of the crisscrossing paths of human activity.

If the Swedish players often focused on introspection, speech, and quietude, the final night—”Incomparable Contrivances,” with the tightly focused energy of the Talea Ensemble—dug into the 21st century’s louder corners. In addition to plentiful percussion, there was also a good deal of humor, sometimes in short supply in new music outposts.

In Dan VanHassel’s Ghost in the Machine (2013), transducers affixed to cymbals created an amusing illusion of the latter playing by themselves, but they were actually triggered by other actions of a small chamber ensemble. If there were any ghosts lurking about, their unspoken mandate seeming to be to infuse the players with a droll, robotic sensibility.

The award for the longest title went to Matthias Kranebitter for packthebox(withfivedozenofmyliqourjugs) (2013), a wild ride for piano, flute and trombone coupled with a frenetic taped portion. With the musicians huddled near the piano like a jazz trio, Kranebitter’s amusing exercise climaxes with an ascending scale, interrupted by more taped sound fragments and the deadpan commentary of a metronome.

Inflection Point (2011-2013) by Croatian composer Davor Branimir Vincze, refers to a decisive mathematical point on a curve, which he expands to mean “a time of significant change in a situation.” Using an amplifed ensemble, glistening high frequencies were accented by celesta, maracas, and a thunder sheet. Eventually the musicians dropped out, and the piece arrived at a sort of “cadenza for electronics,” before the players gradually sneaked back into the mix.

For percussionist Alex Lipowski, Irish composer Ann Cleare created eōl (2015, also a MATA commission), with two ominous-looking metal wrist cuffs, their small spikes functioning like the spines on a music box. He also donned metallic gloves with brass tips, all of which—coupled with muted industrial noise—created something akin to a nocturne to accompany the shadowy world of the Quay Brothers.

If the friend with me thought Inflection Point was the “darkest” piece of the night, that was before we heard Ofir Klemperer’s A Love Song (2007), subtitled “a punk song for classical ensemble,” to be performed “as loud and violent as possible.” The latter posed no problems, especially for the deceptively mild-mannered composer, who plunged into a harrowing, misogynist vocal rant (augmented by a megaphone). Perhaps the most shocking sequence of the evening, I found it both sad and strangely touching.

The evening closed with Sam Pluta’s Machine Language (2012), for three percussionists (Lipowski, Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg) and a small group including accordion. Over mostly improvised percussion, the ensemble charged through Pluta’s often brutal landscape with complete authority, a powerful end to an already provocative evening.

Bruce Hodges

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