Seen and Heard International Concert Review
message in a bottle: guest artists, counter)induction, Tenri Cultural Institute, New York, 10.06.2006 (BH)
Caroline Mallonée (b. 1975): Throwing Mountains (2003)
Gregory Mertl (b. 1969): Recitative to an Absent Sky (1999)
Keeril Makan: Braid (2001)
Kyle Bartlett (b. 1971): vox sanguinaria (2006)
Suzanne Sorkin (b. 1974): String Trio (2004)
Peter Knell (b. 1970): (012) – (01234) (2006)
Benjamin Fingland, clarinets
Sumire Kudo, cello
Blair McMillen, piano
Jessica Meyer, viola
Kyle Bartlett, composer
Douglas Boyce, composer
Stephanie Griffin, viola
Jeffrey Irving, percussion
Jesse Mills, violin
Cara Egan Reynolds, actor
One of the admirable concerns of counter)induction is to encourage young composers with calls for scores and subsequent performances, and two of these winners were featured at the group’s final concert of the year under the creative moniker “message in a bottle,” reflecting the uncertainty in getting a response when one’s work is birthed into the world. Given the volume of data and stimulation that most of us deal with on a daily basis, and the number of composers still feeling the urge to write and deal with the public relations challenges inherent in getting their work performed, any effort to bring some of these voices to our attention should be commended. And at least on this occasion, I liked the results.
Born in the 1970s (as all were on tonight’s program but one from 1969), Caroline Mallonée studied at Duke University but has also worked in the Netherlands with Louis Andriessen, whose influence could be felt in Throwing Mountains. It carries a restless rhythmic charge – to my ears a sort of “Andriessen makes out with Hindemith,” with chugging patterns that made an arresting start to the evening. The title comes from the process of creating ceramics (“throwing pots”) that Mallonée sees as similar to the imaginary act of “throwing” (or disposing of) mountains. Her whirling score was expertly done by Benjamin Fingland on bass clarinet, Stephanie Griffin on viola, Sumire Kudo on cello, and pianist Blair McMillen. All young composers should be as lucky to have their work played with such exactitude and passion.
Ms. Kudo returned for Gregory Mertl’s Recitative to an Absent Sky, an impassioned riff for solo cello. Mr. Mertl has studied with Kagel and Dutilleux, and here combines an intense, almost operatic ardor with quiet ruminations. As with many of the works this evening, a second hearing would be welcome, and I enjoyed watching Kudo’s pristine, elegant playing. The first half closed with Keeril Makan’s absorbing Braid, with Jesse Mills (violin) and Jessica Meyer (viola), joining Ms. Kudo and Mr. McMillen, all in alert synchronization. Currently in Boston, Mr. Makan acknowledges influences as diverse as American folk music, minimalism, Indian classical music and European modernism (see web site.) He clearly is concerned with pattern, and this piece throbs with Andriessen’s influence (seemingly hovering in the air over much of the concert).
Kyle Bartlett’s striking vox sanguinaria (“the voice of blood”) opened the second half, and the composer herself offered an interesting comment, “I tried to imagine how they [the instruments] would be handled by someone who had never seen them.” The mysterious sounds created by the group seemed to ask questions that either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be answered. Aside from the excellent musicians, the performance was notable for deploying an amateur actor, Cara Egan Reynolds, whose diminutive stature gives no clue to her outsized voice and an ability to get deep inside Ms. Bartlett’s ideas. While the five instrumentalists are creating a minor hurricane, Reynolds offered isolated syllables, moaning, extended wailing, and ultimately quieted down into sighs and breathing. I wondered if painter Frida Kahlo might have been watching from above.
Suzanne Sorkin was the other prizewinner on the program, and her String Trio is in two parts, linked by a violin line that eventually comes into focus over time. Ms. Griffin and Ms. Kudo created arcs of melody, as Mr. Mills’ radiant violin eventually took center stage, the complete melody falling into place near the end. The program closed with the world premiere of Peter Knell’s arrestingly titled (012) – (01234), derived from his observations of the sculpture garden at the Musée Rodin in Paris. The music mirrors Knell’s comment about “misshapen, deformed sculptures strewn about,” and its subtle virtuosity offered challenges that the group’s core players met with zeal and abandon.
Whatever one thinks of the repertoire on this occasion (and not everyone with whom I spoke was enthusiastic about the entire program), that’s part of the game here. Some of the excitement is being first in line to experience some of the freshest music that the United States has to offer. But the lasting impression is of a young contemporary music ensemble that is swiftly gaining momentum.
For more information: www.counterinduction.com