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Zorn, Carrick, Sharp, Felsenfeld, Kurtág: Either/Or, Tenri Cultural Institute, New York City, 7.4.2006 (BH)

John Zorn: Gri-Gri (2000)
Richard Carrick: In Flow (2006, World Premiere)
Elliott Sharp: Oligosono (2004)
Daniel Felsenfeld: First Scenes from Red Room (2006, World Premiere)
György Kurtág: Three Pieces for Clarinet and Cimbalom, Op. 38 (1996)
György Kurtág: Eight Duos for Violin and Cimbalom, op. 4 (1961)
György Kurtág: Three Other Pieces for Clarinet and Cimbalom, op. 38a (1996)

Anthony Burr, clarinet
Richard Carrick, piano
Andrea Schultz, violin
David Shively, percussion/cimbalom

Once again an unorthodox menu proved successful for Either/Or, fast building a reputation for intriguing concerts constructed from works rarely heard, even in the music mecca of New York. Composer John Zorn describes Gri-Gri as “a very challenging and very difficult polyrhythmic piece for 13 tuned drums.” (Emphasis on the word “very,” used twice.) Zorn begins with a gleeful moto perpetuo that is soon interrupted and transformed into complex rhythmic patterns, all with slight variations in timbre thanks to the variety of instruments. Surrounded by drums, virtuoso David Shively was in balletic form, effortlessly moving from one to another, while swapping sticks and turning pages at the same time. This kind of physicality holds its own magic.

Richard Carrick penned In Flow for violinist Andrea Schultz, who gave it a rapturous, emotional reading. Begun in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the title refers to the “Flow theory” of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “which maps the ideal performance activity onto an x-y chart relating skill level vs. task difficulty.” What Carrick has created sounds in essence like a lyrical etude with vaguely Baroque overtones, as if Bach found himself temporarily transplanted to the top of a Tanzanian cliff. Ms. Schultz was striking in her command, playing with faultless intonation and an exquisite calm.

Perhaps the most unorthodox was Oligosono by Elliott Sharp, here exploring the inherent resonance of piano strings. From a few sequences that constantly mutate and leave overtones in their wake, the illusion gradually develops of a microtonal instrument, even when there is none. Polyrhythmic tremolos surge and ebb, often creating a dense, fuzzy texture that eventually disintegrates into silence. If to my ears it could have been a tad shorter, Sharp’s experiments are almost always fascinating, and Mr. Carrick was (at appropriate times) a demon at the piano, strumming the patterns with an almost obsessive concentration.

First Scenes from Red Room is an intense study for violin and piano, each now joined in synchronicity, then seemingly trying to destroy each other. (It’s not quite as violent as that sounds.) Daniel Felsenfeld uses language that is gently romantic, even intimate, with an abrupt glissando gesture on the violin that keeps reappearing like a water sprite. I found it haunting, especially as delivered by Ms. Shultz and Mr. Carrick. One is left with the feeling that the complete story reveals itself more slowly – that there are other emotions just below the surface – and not a bad reason to hear it again. It’s a tribute to Carrick and Shively (the group’s founders) that much of the evening would make a welcome re-listen.

The cimbalom is an unusual Hungarian instrument with some physical resemblance to the hammered dulcimer. When the strings resonate (here Mr. Shively used soft padded sticks), the twang seems sort of a cross between a harpsichord and a mouth harp. György Kurtág expertly uses this cloudy jangle as a canvas on which to drop the much more focused tones of clarinet and violin, always with his trademark spareness. As in Sharp’s piece, silences are crucial, creating a unique, hovering delicacy. It is no accident that Kurtág is often mentioned in the same breath as Webern, and shares that composer’s preoccupation with the power of miniatures.

The three sets were played with only brief pauses between them (all fourteen segments comprise scarcely fifteen minutes). Using an instrument reconstructed from the best parts of two he had rescued, Mr. Shively was riveting on an instrument that probably not many people in the world even know how to play, and therefore it is unlikely that these little jewels will be performed again soon. Ms. Shultz was again mesmerizing in the tiny Duos, some just seconds long, and the outer sets were given their own peculiar majesty by Anthony Burr, a veteran clarinetist on the New York new music scene. Among his many virtues, Burr has control to spare. It was almost worth the entire evening to watch him end the Three Other Pieces, op. 38a with a spellbinding softness, the room in silent awe as he lowered the bell of his clarinet – a hushed, gripping ending to a concert that in effect, made a much louder noise.

Bruce Hodges





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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)