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S & H International Concert Review

Da Capo Chamber Players, The Knitting Factory, New York City, April 25, 2004 (BH)

 

Kyle Gann: Hovenweep (2000)
Derek Bermel: Coming Together (1999)
John Mackey: Breakdown Tango (2000)
Dennis De Santis: Make it Stop (1999)
David Lang: THORN (1993)
Frederic Rzewski: Coming Together (1972)

Da Capo Chamber Players:
David Bowlin, violin
André Emelianoff, cello
Blair McMillen, piano
Patricia Spencer, flute
Meighan Stoops, clarinet

Guest artist:
Steve Ben Israel, speaker

i think the combination of age and the greater coming together is responsible for the speed of the passing time. its six months now and i can tell you truthfully few periods in my life have passed so quickly. i am in excellent physical and emotional health. there are doubtless subtle surprises ahead but i feel secure and ready.

(Excerpt from Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together, text by Sam Melville)

To mix up their routine a bit, the venerable Da Capo Chamber Players gave up a gleeful program with some well-known talents, a few not so well-known, and ended with a moving performance of a classic. A definite plus was the venue, the Tap Room at the Knitting Factory, which is a cozy space and has been enlarged and renovated to improve the sight lines. I can’t see why many people wouldn’t enjoy hearing music here while sitting at a small pub table and enjoying a pint of Magic Hat No. 9 (a tasty beer from a small brewer in Vermont).

If Brahms had delved into jazz, he might have come up with something similar to Kyle Gann’s Hovenweep, very swingily played and anchored by strong work from the group’s pianist, Blair McMillen. John Mackey’s Breakdown Tango was formerly titled Dementia, until as he explained, he began to receive unpleasant notes from people suffering from same, which I suppose implies that he has not yet received notes from those suffering from breakdowns. It ended the first half with a careening, buzzing, pleasantly almost-out-of-control force that again benefited from McMillen’s sturdy rhythmic spine, as well as excellent, gutsy work from violinist David Bowlin.

Meighan Stoops was clearly having a fantastic evening, particularly in Derek Bermel’s unusual Coming Together (no relation to the Rzewski). She and cellist André Emelianoff brought the piece to life with precision that had me chuckling. Constructed mostly of short, sighing glissandi, the piece had Stoops’ clarinet in an almost sexual rapport with Emelianoff’s cello. Bermel, like many of the composers on this program, is clearly fascinated by jazz, and this work benefited from its interpreters’ clearly feeling the same. David DeSantis’ Make it Stop, an entertaining exercise in obsessive figures for the clarinet set against an equally intense piano part, also showed Stoops and McMillen at their riveting best in the work’s pulsing colors.

Flutist Pat Spencer, whose work I greatly admire, gave the room’s collective ears a driven, almost Bach-ian workout in David Lang’s THORN, written as a sixty-fifth birthday present for composer Jacob Druckman. According to Lang, Druckman found Lang’s work lacking in formality, so this was an attempt, perhaps with a little jesting, to redress with something more formal. The piece is fairly stark in its relentless, piquant cascade of notes, and might in lesser hands be extremely irritating, but in the hands of Ms. Spencer, it quickly became much more.

For the final work, Rzewski’s classic Coming Together, Da Capo enlisted poet and performer Steve Ben Israel, formerly with the Living Theater, whose persona – sort of 1960’s Haight Ashbury coffeehouse art rebel, and I mean this in the most complimentary way – was well deployed here. Rzewski’s intense, repeated text is from a letter by political prisoner Sam Melville, written shortly before his death in the Attica rebellion in 1971. Israel’s carefully modulated performance never grew shrill or monotonous (a peril in this work), nor did he descend into maudlin theatrics during the barrages of repeated cells that seemed to expand, contract and multiply. Israel’s verbal variety constantly offered new insights, and the Da Capo musicians built the climactic ending into a ferocious onslaught, bringing the underlying tragedy of the work fully to the fore.

Bruce Hodges

 


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