Seen and Heard International
Look and Listen Festival 2005 (II):
Robert Miller Gallery, New York City, 16 April, 2005 (BH)
Joshua Hilson: untitled (2005, Festival Ambient
George Perle: Critical Moments 2 (2001)
David Lang: Little Eye (1999)
Steve Reich: Drumming, Part I (1971)
Jennifer Higdon: Zaka (2003)
David Gordon: Drops (2003)
Frederic Rzewski: Coming Together (1972, realized
by Matthew Albert in 2000)
Wendy Sutter, cello
Salley Koo, violin
For the final night of the Look and Listen Festival, organizer
and composer David Gordon enticed two ensembles, eighth blackbird
and So Percussion, to deliver a white-hot concert notable for
both the caliber of the playing and the breadth of the composers.
Tonight’s untitled ambient work was by Joshua Hilson, and
perhaps I was immersed in conversation, but I confess it was so
ambient (i.e., quiet) that it mostly escaped detection. (Perhaps
that was the intent.) In any case, I will take this opportunity
to thank Mr. Hilson for his outstanding work as expert sound engineer
during the festival – and given the surfeit of electronics,
this is not an insignificant role.
I have heard George Perle’s witty, concise Critical
Moments 2 several times, but not as astonishingly as here,
when eighth blackbird amazingly played it without music. In nine
brief sections, Perle shows an elegant, Webern-like sensitivity
to texture, but with more florid lines – and much more humor.
I especially like Perle’s deadpan snare drum (here, the
exacting Matthew Duvall), which comes and goes like a shy guest
at a party who unexpectedly spills a drink and then doesn’t
know what to do. In any case, I can’t imagine a more persuasive
reading, with each of the six players listening to and cueing
each other in a model of chamber music rapport. The balance of
the group, all marvelous, are Molly Alicia Barth on flutes, Michael
Maccaferri on clarinets, Matt Albert on violin and viola, Nicholas
Photinos on cello, and Lisa Kaplan on piano.
David Lang is infatuated with brake drums, or so it might seem
in the wake of Cheating, Lying, Stealing (in which drums
are struck with sticks) and in tonight’s gorgeous Little
Eye, in which the four percussionists rub the metal surfaces,
producing what the composer describes as a “dirty sparkle.”
It is a totally intriguing sound, here used to evoke the sense
of time passing, perhaps gently but a bit aimlessly. With Wendy
Sutter giving solemn weight to the introspective, slightly melancholy
cello line over the percussion, one could imagine someone practicing
Bach upstairs, while someone downstairs is puttering around, clearing
away dishes. Like Morton Feldman and others, Little Eye
celebrates contemplation, boredom, and languor in a seemingly
static ritual that is actually teeming with tiny events.
Just prior to the highly anticipated performance of Steve Reich’s
rarely done Four Organs, So Percussion suffered an equipment
malfunction, but mild disappointment quickly disappeared when
Douglas Perkins, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Lawson White
ripped into the blitzkrieg that is Part I of Reich’s Drumming.
Their ferocity was highlighted in the first five minutes, when
one of the drumsticks split in half and flew into the audience.
Reich’s hypnotic masterpiece of phase-shifting is even more
effective in the context of the entire hour-long piece, but I
doubt anyone could resist the precision and energy here.
In a talk before the second half, I had the pleasure of speaking
with Mr. Lang, composer Aaron Jay Kernis (whose Trio in Red
was performed on the previous night), and artists Judy Glantzman
and John Torreano, all of whom contributed humorous insights discussing
the crosscurrents shared by art and music. When the concert resumed,
eighth blackbird upped the energy level with Jennifer Higdon’s
pulsating Zaka, with some vivid flute shrieks by Ms.
Barth. This likeable work has fast-forming melodic lines sailing
over an irresistible rhythmic drive. The title is an imagined
definition of the word zaka: “To do the following almost
simultaneously and with great speed: zap, sock, race, turn, drop,
sprint,” and all of these seemed to be happening in
eighth blackbird’s nonstop fireworks.
By contrast, David Gordon’s Drops is a shimmering
study for violin and percussion inspired by the “dropping”
of sticks on a bass drum, creating a delicate shower of small
sounds. Violinist Sally Koo and percussionist Jason Treuting (of
the So players) created a sometimes hushed catalogue of timbres.
Ms. Koo often explored the lustrous upper reaches of her instrument,
while Mr. Treuting gently drew a bow across bells and drum edges.
The quiet, mirrored surface was a perfectly timed oasis after
Rzewski’s Coming Together uses as its burning core,
a letter written to the New York Times by Sam Melville,
a political prisoner killed in 1971 in the Attica prison riots.
The eight implacably powerful sentences follow:
I think the combination of age and a greater
coming together is responsible for the speed of the passing time.
It’s six months now, and I can tell you truthfully, few
periods of 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. As lovers will contrast their emotions
in times of crisis, so I am dealing with my environment. In the
indifferent brutality, the incessant noise, the experimental chemistry
of food, the ravings of lost hysterical men, I can act with clarity
and meaning. I am deliberate, sometimes even calculating, seldom
employing histrionics except as a test of the reactions of others.
I read much, exercise, talk to guards and inmates, feeling for
the inevitable direction of my life.
Rzewski originally conceived the work for a single speaker who
intones the text, with the instruments in long repetitive phrases
which build as the entire ensemble gradually escalates to the
stormy ending. Mr. Albert, who is the violinist for the group,
has distributed the text amongst the six musicians who are outfitted
with head microphones, which amplifies the emotional intensity.
The piece began quietly, but inexorably reached an almost hysterical
pitch, with portions of the text being shouted within the squall
of ostinatos. I can hardly imagine a more appropriate ending to
this festival – jarring, virtuosic, and memorable.
For more information: www.lookandlisten.org