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Composer Portraits at Miller Theatre: Marc-André Dalbavie: Dimitri Maslennikov (cello), Hsin-Yun Huang (viola), Cliff Colnot (conductor), International Contemporary Ensemble, Miller Theatre, New York City, 5.12.2008 (BH)

Dimitri Maslennikov, cello
Hsin-Yun Huang, viola
Cliff Colnot, conductor

International Contemporary Ensemble
Claire Chase, flute
Eric Lamb, flute
Rane Moore, clarinet
Joshua Rubin, clarinet
James Austin Smith, oboe
Adrian Morejon, bassoon
David Byrd-Marrow, horn
C.J. Camerieri, trumpet
Rachel Simon, trumpet
Stephen Menotti, bass trombone
David Bowlin, violin
Jennifer Curtis, violin
Erik Carlson, violin
John Pickford Richards, viola
Wendy Richman, viola
Victoria Bass, cello
Randall Zigler, double bass
Jacob Greenberg, piano and keyboards
Cory Smythe, piano and keyboards
Nathan Davis, percussion
Russell Greenberg, percussion
Ryan Streber, live electronics

Marc-André Dalbavie: Palimpseste (2002)
Marc-André Dalbavie: Diadèmes (1986)
Marc-André Dalbavie: Fantaisies (2008, world premiere)

One of the most talented of the second generation of spectralist composers, Paris-born Marc-André Dalbavie studied with Tristan Murail and with Pierre Boulez at IRCAM.  Dalbavie's work shows the sounds attained by spectral concerns (in a nutshell: using computers to analyze a note's wave forms) combined with the sophisticated sound processing techniques developed by IRCAM researchers.  Like many spectral pieces, the often unearthly results seem to retune the ear, flooding the brain with microtones and in many cases, sounds that seem brand new.

Nowhere is this displayed more colorfully than in Diad
èmes, the work that put Dalbavie on the map at just 25 years of age.  Scored for viola, chamber orchestra and electronics, it consists of three discrete musical groups: a chamber ensemble, an electronic duo of two Yamaha DX7 synthesizers and a solo viola, sometimes altered electronically.  The first movement uses the soloist with the acoustic ensemble, followed by the electronic ensemble and altered viola, and ending with the entire group deploying every available tool.  Other parameters chosen by Dalbavie are impressive, but too complex to delve into here; suffice to say that his formality on paper gives no clue to the sensuous, exciting music that emerges.  Violist Hsin-Yun Huang, in heroic form and backed by the International Contemporary Ensemble, was completely inside Dalbavie's idiom, and all superbly coordinated by conductor Cliff Colnot.  At times I noticed a curious effect: the piece seemed to subtly nudging Miller Theatre into some kind of super-arena, many times its normal size.

The program began with Palimpseste, the title of which refers to the act of writing or drawing on a piece of parchment from which writing has been erased.  Using a madrigal by Gesualdo and just six players, Dalbavie "erases" his source and then "draws" upon portions of it, fusing the two in shimmering microtones.  It is as if Gesualdo were being glimpsed through a 21st-century prism, with the fluent ICE sextet holding it up to the light for better viewing.

Finally came the world premiere of Fantaisies, commissioned by Hester Diamond in honor of Ralph Kaminsky's 80th birthday, acknowledging his longstanding reputation as a contemporary explorer, always on the prowl for new and unusual music.  The piece is in six parts, for a ferociously difficult solo cello with equally challenging writing for a large ensemble, again incisively led by Mr. Colnot.  Clusters of repeated spectral chords are shattered into tiny fragments and miraculously reassemble.  A huge outburst dissolves into a floating solo line, surrounded by tiny pieces of sound drifting off into the ether.  Amid the sonic onslaught, the adroit and brilliant cellist Dimitri Masslenikov seemed completely unfazed by Dalbavie's dazzling demands.

Bruce Hodges

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