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MATA Festival 2010 (Concerts 2 and 3): Calder Quartet, Ensemble Pamplemousse, Tristan Perich, Lisa Moore (piano), (Le) Poisson Rouge, New York City, 20.4.2010 and 21.4.2010 (BH)


Lisa R. Coons: Cythère (a trauma ballet in two parts) (2010 revision, world premiere)

Fabian Svennsson: Singing and Dancing (2008, New York premiere)

Nathan Davis: Skrzyp Skrzyn (2010, world premiere)

Daniel Wohl: Glitch (2009, New York premiere)


Natacha Diels: Symbiosis II (2010, world premiere)

Rama Gottfried: Nest (2009/2010)

Andrew Greenwald: On Structure (2010, world premiere)

Tristan Perich: qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq (2009)

Sam Adams: Piano Step (2010, world premiere)

Timothy Andres: How Can I Live in Your World of Ideas? (2007)

Julian Day: Bad Blood (2010, world premiere)

Missy Mazzoli: Orizzonte (2005)

Paul Swartzel: Honky Tonk Toccata (2009, New York premiere)

Celebrating a decade of nourishing young composers, the MATA Festival provides them with an annual platform for their work, often by some of the most cutting-edge musicians on the scene. Of this year’s four nights at (Le) Poisson Rouge, I caught the middle two. If there are any conclusions to be drawn, other than the level of skill telegraphed by both composers and performers, it would be that no stylistic trend prevails. Composers incorporate everything under the sun—and we are the happy beneficiaries.

Lisa R. Coons describes Cythère as dealing with trauma and memory, and the superb Calder Quartet did the idea proud. Using a restricted pitch range, she opens with sharp stabbing chords passed around the ensemble, before the texture eventually inflames into a mélange of sounds. The second section is made from mostly quiet planes with the occasional static and scratches, ending with a prolonged pianissimo, like tiny creaking sounds of an old door.

Fabian Svennsson was unfortunately trapped in Europe by the Iceland volcano eruption—a pity since he was not able to hear the vibrant reading of his Singing and Dancing. After opening with descending scales, like some kind of mildly anemic Pachelbel canon, the cello barges in with a low, obsessive note, before one of the violins erupts with a high pitch at the top end of the spectrum. Heavily accented rhythms are interrupted by unison pauses, which give a mildly comic effect. The result sounds like a folksong that grows more nightmarish with each repetition.

Nathan Davis’s consonant-happy title, Skrzyp Skrzyn, is Polish for “the creaking of chests,” which is borne out by his array of effects. Players edge their bows almost to the bridge, in sustained flutters, like wheels squeaking, or squeegees. Some devilish fiddling, almost Bartókian, eventually leads to pizzicatos which introduce a sort of microtonal coda. The work ends with a single, graceful puff of open strings.

“Glitches are inherent to all recorded audio mediums,” writes Daniel Wohl about Glitch. “They are happy accidents, flaws that take on special meaning or interest.” In the work’s four sections, Wohl combines altered recordings of string playing with imaginative effects for the live players. The first is tense and wiry, with a soulful undercurrent, but ultimately harrowing, while the second is marked by a super-agitated cello. The third uses what sounds like a scratchy cinema soundtrack, and in the fourth, the tape delivers an alarm that resembles Morse code, before the strings enter, adding extra layers.

All of these, most written for the ensemble, were perfectly suited for the club’s acoustic, and the Calder crew gave them ferocious energy and exactitude, playing with the kind of authority one might find in a more traditional Beethoven cycle. Before the concert began, Matthew Wright’s Totem for Gobi-New York played in the lobby, offering listeners an otherworldly entrance into the club’s interior. Wright’s subtle grooves were inspired by the composer’s driving a Jeep in the Gobi Desert, where he had the unexpected feeling that he was driving across “the parched surface of a vinyl record.”

The following night, the composer/performers of Ensemble Pamplemousse offered their spiky esthetic defined by clicks and pops, with occasional vocalization adding textural variety. Rama Gottfried drew inspiration from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, and using an intriguing series of nested repeat signs, created shimmering waves of sound, ricocheting through the ensemble.

Andrew Greenwald’s On Structure II combined violent gestures with muffled vocals, quiet tapping on the neck of a cello, hissing flute and raspy stroked strings. Flutist Natacha Diels added electronics for Symbiosis II, designed with a complex system of interlocking patterns and ratios. And David Broome’s Grid (Symbols + Numbers + Text), the performers are given a set of instructions, including movement: leg kicks, circling arms and half-squats, combined with babbling, coughing and hissing, in a Dada-esque fusion of sound and motion.

You need to know that Tristan Perich has a cell phone unlike any other: he has reconfigured a full-sized, plastic table phone (i.e., with console and receiver), which he carries around in an amusing commentary on technology and portability. Similar humor and technological queries find their way into much of his work, including qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq for three toy pianos and electronic parts—here, three cone speakers—creating a series of rapid arpeggios. The three performers—Mr. Perich, Mr. Broome and Lorna Krier—delivered a dashing reading, and seemed immune to the work’s physical demands.

To conclude, pianist Lisa Moore offered an excellent, exuberantly played set of five works, each showing different sides of her steely focus. Sam Adams wrote Piano Step with the goal of “commemorating the birth of a new dance form.” Evenly spaced chords are interrupted by tiny gestures, creating a sort of 21st-century foxtrot, which I could imagine seeing choreographed in future performance. How can I live in your world of ideas? by Timothy Andres combines low rumblings with occasional flights that break free to the instrument’s higher registers, but the groaning lower notes seem to hold the most intrigue, before the ending comes with an abrupt flourish. And Julian Day begins Bad Blood with a single repeated note, morphing it into obsessive clumps of rhythmic chords. In his notes, he writes of a mild dislike of “virtuosic lyricism,” and this percussive etude is the anathema of that approach.

When Missy Mazzoli first performed Orizzonte, for piano and electronics, it was on an instrument that had been “left out in the rain for a year, in a dilapidated squat hidden in the heart of Amsterdam.” Here, using a (presumably) more well-tended piano, Ms. Moore produced mesmerizing results, combining an electronic drone with a slow-moving piano part entering as songfully as Schubert. To end the set, Moore burst into Paul Swartzel’s entertaining Honky Tonk Toccata. Rhythmically aggressive, it runs amok as if Bach, Nancarrow and a bit of jazz were thrown together like three excitable children, playfully jumping on beds until they unexpectedly collapse.


Bruce Hodges


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