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S & H International Concert Review

2004 Look & Listen Festival, Robert Miller Gallery, New York City, March 4, 2004 (BH)

Juliana Trivers: wallpaper
Mario Davidovsky: Synchronisms #10
Peter Gilbert: Ricochet
Steven Mackey: Myrtle and Mint
Keynote address by Peter Plagens

LoVid: PsychOut
Mary King: Drip
Mario Davidovsky: Festino

For this engaging exploration, now in its third year, director David Gordon lined up an intriguing assortment of composers, performers and visual artists – a mix of old and new – all dedicated to the aural and the visual and how they intertwine and comment on each other. On opening night, unfortunately one of the participants – the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, who was scheduled to perform Poulenc, Stravinsky and Morton Lauridsen – had to renege at the last minute. Too bad, since the works they were to perform, such as Lauridsen’s popular O Magnum Mysterium, would have sounded refreshingly unusual in this context.

Coming to the rescue on very short notice was composer Steven Mackey, whose Myrtle and Mint had something to do with his colleagues at Princeton being inspired by Wagner, and his puzzled reaction to their passion. With Mackey on electric guitar while speaking some snippets of text, the piece might have been subtitled "Wagner Channeled by Jimi Hendrix." Eventually a female assistant plunged some dry ice blocks into a bucket as overflowing mist began spilling onto the floor, and shortly afterward carefully placed a gold-painted crown on Mackey’s head. I will only add that I don’t expect to see a well-known composer wearing gold headgear of any kind at any venue in the near future.

Before the concert began, as the crowd circulated in the gallery Juliana Trivers’ ambient wallpaper filled the space. Engineering credit was given to Mimi Brown, who transformed Trivers’ violin into shimmering waves echoing off the high white walls, making a smart complement to Bill Henson’s mysterious, noirish photographs, whose work even all by itself would have made the evening worthwhile. (Think David Lynch mixed with a little Magritte and you will have some idea.)

Dan Lippel did a wonderful job with Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No. 10 for guitar and electronics, the latter entering dramatically about three or four minutes into the piece. As with the composer’s other Synchronisms, this one asks the instrument and the electronics to dance, combine, and realign themselves, to comment on each other, and Lippel couldn’t have been more intent or persuasive. Peter Gilbert’s Ricochet, winner of the 2004 Look and Listen Award, was also shown to great advantage by Lippel, and perhaps coincidentally, its bristling language seemed nicely paired with the Davidovsky.

For me the only clinker was PsychOut by LoVid, a duo whose unarguable talent somehow seemed squandered here. After spending a few minutes attaching small video monitors (five each) to their bodies, they stood behind a table and (apparently) juggled electronic controls, with aural results humming through speakers and visual counterpoint displayed on the monitors. For such fascinating preparation – watching Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus adorn themselves with electronics – the results seemed disappointingly meager. I would have liked a more thorough, detailed technical explanation – in the program notes or as a verbal introduction – of the processes they used and how their explorations translated into what we heard and saw. Invite them back, since on paper, LoVid would seem to be ideal for Look & Listen’s mission.

After this came flutist Pat Spencer in the brief, charming Drip by Chicago-based composer Mary King. The piece is generated by flute pulses separated by silence, and in this case, no doubt completely by coincidence, also made a nice complement to Henson’s visuals. The final work, Davidovsky’s Festino, combined guitarist Lippel with Jessica Meyer on viola, Joanne Lin on cello, and Troy Rinker Jr., on bass, who closed down the evening with the composer’s intricate, buzzing rhythms brought to vigorous life.

As a postscript, unfortunately I could not attend the two subsequent evenings, but friends who went on Friday commented on the excellent reading by pianist Lisa Moore of Martin Bresnick’s For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise, and an equally stimulating discussion with Bresnick, John Corigliano, and Joan Tower, as well as visual artists Philip Pearlstein and Peter Plagens. And later in the evening, the Daedalus String Quartet apparently brought down the house with Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 2. Kudos to David Gordon and his colleagues, who seem firmly committed to opportunities inherent in combining shrewdly chosen music with provocative visual statements.

Bruce Hodges
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