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Seen and Heard International Concert Review

 

Look and Listen Festival 2005 (I): Robert Miller Gallery, New York City, 14 April, 2005 (BH)


Ryan Dorin: DRAGNET! (2005, Festival Ambient Piece)
Conlon Nancarrow: String Quartet No. 1 (1945)
Morton Feldman: Structures (1951)
Meredith Monk: Selections from Book of Days (1988)
Joan Jeanrenaud: Vermont Rules (2002)
Joan Jeanrenaud: Strange Toys (2004)


Daedalus String Quartet
Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble: Theo Bleckmann, Tom Bogdan, Peter Eldridge, Katie Geissinger, Ching Gonzales, Toby Newman, Allison Sniffin
Joan Jeanrenaud, cello and electronics


A goldmine of off-the-beaten-track programming, the 2005 Look and Listen Festival swung into action with an edgy work by Ryan Dorin playing on speakers while the audience was assembling. Dorin, a composer studying at New York University, used a computer to alter a single Dragnet radio broadcast (the show aired from 1949-57), transforming Jack Webb’s “staccato, matter-of-fact speech delivery” (and for the health-conscious, excising the original advertisements for Chesterfield cigarettes). Although designed as an ambient work, it was compelling enough to warrant a further, more focused hearing. The program proper began with a vigorous reading of Nancarrow’s String Quartet No. 1, a 1945 piece as devilish as his player piano studies, with layered canons and ostinatos mingling with jazz to create a unique texture, like Bartók on steroids. Despite musicians’ increasing comfort with many of Nancarrow’s ideas, it is still astonishing to watch a group tackle this work. From the first phrase, the excellent Daedalus String Quartet marched into Nancarrow’s witty intricacies as if they had played them for decades, digressing for some soulfulness in the more blues-oriented second movement. The finale has a jaw-dropping eight-voice canon, created by each instrument playing double-stops that never ceases to amaze if done well, and the marvelous Daedalus players had confidence to spare.


Feldman’s Structures is surprisingly short – only about six minutes compared to the six hours of his notorious Second String Quartet – so those anticipating being in the gallery until after midnight needn’t have worried. In a complete about-face from the Nancarrow, the Daedalus players showed subtle empathy for this tiny, crystalline dessert, its sparse language a beautiful tonic after the Nancarrow.


After a brief keynote address by Meredith Monk, who addressed the concept of creativity before passionately exhorting the audience to encourage young people to see art and hear concerts (always a welcome idea), she and her expert vocalists offered nine sections from her 1988 Book of Days. Among a number of influences, one could hear echoes of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne, as well as Steve Reich (perhaps his Tehellim), with perhaps a little Arvo Pärt and some Tibetan chanting. Some of the sections are a capella, and almost all are treacherously difficult, but her troupe sings them with a nonchalance that shows the result of hundreds of rehearsal hours. The solo turns were immaculately in tune, and the group blend had an almost otherworldly purity. The performers are veterans with Monk’s idiom, but I was particularly struck by Allison Sniffin, whose unearthly tone (with no vibrato) at first sounded like something generated by her keyboard, and Theo Bleckmann, whose soft tenor has a playful quality well-suited to the gentle lilt of the “Travellers” sections.


At the break, composer Steven Mackey hosted an informative and hilarious talk with artist Laurie Fendrich offering comments on visual artists who long to be musicians, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud putting forth some keen observations about improvisation, and Mr. Mackey relating how he and Ms. Monk once met in a Miami swimming pool at two in the morning. The discussion extended the evening by a bit, but it was so entertaining that no one seemed to mind.


Ms. Jeanrenaud, formerly of the Kronos Quartet, has of late plunged further into the world of cello and electronics, and to conclude the evening offered two examples of her own work, also featured on a recently released recording. Written in 2002, Vermont Rules (here “rules” is a verb) commemorates a beloved dog who spent thirteen years with his owner, and is now memorialized by this winsome set of variations, freely covering all sorts of musical territory from blues and impressionism, to Arabic music and Bach. Strange Toys was conceived as a duet for choreographer Cid Pearlman, and is a set of six two-minute pieces, each of which uses combinations of pizzicato, harmonics and bowing with a different technique of electronic looping. Both works featured Jeanrenaud’s sensuous cello mingling with electronics generated in real time, with phrases that one had just heard, reappearing later. After some prolonged applause, she offered a short piece written for Mr. Mackey, a generous end to a generous evening.




Bruce Hodges


For more information: www.lookandlisten.org




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)