Thursday, February 7, 2013

REVIEW: Southwest Chamber Music @ Zipper Hall, 02/02

While Southwest Chamber Music's first concert of the LA New Music Festival seemed to feature Larry Kaplan on the flute, the second one on 02/02 prominently featured bassist Tom Peters.

The performance opened with a solo bass piece by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies titled Lux in Tenbris. This piece found Peters heroically venturing through a dense woods of double stops and non-idiosyncratic leaps. Lux in Tenbris was followed by Davies' arrangement of John Dowland's Farewell - A Fancye. It was a straightforward arrangement by a composer known to many for his eccentricities (EX: his notorious Eight Songs for a Mad King). This well-crafted orchestration allowed the ensemble to show a quiet reserve, a very effective dynamic for them.

The two Davies pieces were presented as a triptych along with the late Hans Werner Henze's solo bass piece, S. Biagio 9 Agosto Ore 1207. While Lux in Tenbris lived in several distinct sound worlds, Henze's piece presented itself as more of a singular musical statement. There were parallels between the two, most notably the fact that both conclude with extremely high harmonics beyond the end of the fingerboard.

Gabriela Ortiz's Elegia completed the first half. It was a very colorful piece for a large ensemble, full of textural surprises. Ortiz made full use of the percussion section, including a raucous timpani solo by David JohnsonElegia also featured four sopranos: Elissa Johnston, Sharon Harms, Laura Mercado Wright, and Ayana Haviv. Ortiz's use of the four women's voices reminded me sometimes of Ligeti, and sometimes of Xenakis.

The entire second half was devoted to Charles Wourinen's It Happens Like This, based on the poetry of James Tate. With so many Pulitzers on the case, it's a surprisingly humorous affair featuring the four singers who premiered the piece: soprano Sharon Harms, mezzo soprano Laura Mercado Wright, tenor Steven Brennfleck, and bass Douglas Williams. This quartet was obviously very comfortable with the piece, seamlessly and amicably alternating between speaking, singing, and acting in various smaller combinations of voices. When I was younger I initially had a difficult time digesting the music of composers like Wourinen or Carter. That is, until I came to understand them through the filter of Carl Stalling. It Happens Like This highlights that cartoonish connection, making it a fantastic place for musical neophytes to start with this heady composer. Alternating between recitative and mickey-mousing, Wourinen's music was unsurprisingly effective, but surprisingly endearing.

Southwest Chamber Music's LA New Music Festival picks up again on Feb 23 with Stockhausen's Nebadon aus KLANG and Cage's Muoyce II: A Reading Through Ulysses.

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