Portrait of a Young Protégé

United StatesUnited States Mostly Mozart Festival 2015 (2), Dai Fujikura: International Contemporary Ensemble, Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano), Kaplan Penthouse, Lincoln Center, New York City. 13.8.2015 (BH)

Dai Fujikura (b. 1977)

flicker (2011)
Calling (2011)
halcyon (2011)
Returning (2006)
Sakana (2007)
The Voice (2007)
Glacier (2010)
Breathless (2004)

International Contemporary Ensemble – David Bowlin (violin), Kyle Armbrust (viola), Michael Nicolas (cello), Claire Chase (flute), Joshua Rubin (clarinet), Rebekah Heller (bassoon) & Cory Smythe (piano)

Guest: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano and toy piano)

After experiencing a fireball like George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, normally I would prefer a break, without any music at all for a day or so. But in another insightful move from the Mostly Mozart Festival, the opera’s second performance was followed by an hour of works by Dai Fujikura, one of Benjamin’s most restless students. Held in the glamorous Kaplan Penthouse, this survey of Fujikura’s recent work fairly exploded under the keen care of the International Contemporary Ensemble, with amusingly brief contributions by Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

Fujikura has an intense appetite, and not just for sounds. In her introduction, Claire Chase (ICE’s flutist and artistic director) began by describing his visit to a New York city restaurant, where he ordered a lobster roll, a bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich, and a hamburger. (The composer cuts a slim profile, so draw your own metabolism conclusions.)

Aimard and cellist Michael Nicolas began with flicker (2011), a short flurry of micro-Morse Code blips: piano sprinkled on top of staccato cello notes. Nicolas returned later with the extraordinary bassoonist Rebekah Heller for The Voice (2007). As he and Heller leapfrogged over each other, they illuminated a droll study for two instruments not often paired, creating a striking marriage. Heller had her own riveting moments in Calling (2011), a growly paean to the bassoon that seemed to display every single technique available, like some unearthly peacock slowly unfurling its feathers.

Pianist Cory Smythe did elegant work with the intricacies of Returning (2006), which made a well-conceived preface to Sakana (2007), with saxophonist Ryan Muncy skating effortlessly from barely audible multiphonics to full-bore metallic groaning. This is what it’s like to observe a saxophone being born.

A quartet of Mr. Nicolas, violinist David Bowlin, violist Kyle Armbrust, and clarinetist Joshua Rubin breathed life into halcyon (2011), a landscape with percussive scuttlings interrupted by some mesmerizing sustained notes from Rubin. And Chase returned to offer Glacier (2010), her resonant alto flute tone echoing as if through vast, forlorn canyons.

Just when you thought the evening couldn’t get any better, Ross Karre, ICE’s percussionist, walked out with a shiny red toy piano, solemnly raising its lid (cue audience laughter). Returning with a deadpan Mr. Bowlin (this time in pizzicato mode), Aimard assumed an awkward kneeling position in front of the instrument for Breathless (2004), lasting scarcely sixty seconds.

Bruce Hodges

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