Wilder Shores of Music
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
Petr Kotik: In Four Parts
Carolyn Chen: Wilder Shores of Love (World Premiere)
György Ligeti: Piano Concerto
Luca Francesconi: Riti neurali
Alex Mincek: Pendulum #7 (World Premiere)
John Cage: Concert for Piano and Orchestra
Daan Vandewalle, Joseph Kubera (Piano), Hana Kotková (Violin)
Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble & Ostravská banda, Petr Kotik (Conductor)
P. Kotik (© S.E.M. Ensemble)
Petr Kotik is not a household name. But he wears as many elegant hats in the field of contemporary music as Ginger Rogers wore in the field of 1930’s musicals.
Not in order of importance, but Mr. Kotik is Founder, Director and Artistic Director of New York’s S.E.M. Ensemble, Artistic Director of the Czech Republic’s Ostrava Center for New Music, a brilliant conductor (more on that later), and a composer of note.
In fact, the first work on this all-modern music program, was a fascinating work by Mr. Kotik. He didn’t conduct the three percussionists with their huge battery of instruments, and he wrote that he was influenced here by John Cage. But one had to connect him with Iannis Xenakis, whose own numerous pieces for percussion are equally transparent and graphic.
Mr. Kotik’s Four Parts was a fascinating four-part work. The first was like a fugue in time and sonority. Each of the three players started singly with a long note, then two shorter notes, then (like the half-life of an atom), shorter and shorter notes until it was non-stop drumming (or chiming). Soon the players were playing metrical fugues with themselves in the most fascinating equation until leading to (what seemed to be) a second section of aleatory banging and chiming away with marimbas, chimes and timpani.
The third section was a study in quietness (sort of a Bartók “night music”), and the finish was again a study in canons and fugues.
One of the assets of this was that, like most of the other music, it did not outwear its welcome. One couldn’t say this with Luca Francesconi’s Riti neurali, orchestrated like Schubert’s Octet (with a tiny melodic homage to Schubert at the very end). The solo was by Hana Kotková, who, like the others, has made a specialty of avant-garde music And she played her mainly vibrato-less violin more than competently.
The fragments on her fiddle with the answers by the orchestra were initially interesting in timbre, but soon became exhausting. No doubt we had structure of some sort, but at first hearing they were simply sounds and light brushes with strings and horn.
Alex Mincek’s Pendulum #7 was also long, but a delight in tricks. The tricks of an ordinary pendulum (not, alas, Foucault’s pendulum, which would have been more challenging) but the metrical answering of loud and soft, harsh and melodic, dark and light, and–in a good ending, quiet against sound. The trick was “When will the other shoe drop?”, and we all held our breaths for this
By far–far!!–the most beguiling work was Carolyn Chen’s bathetically titled Wilder Shores of Love. Ms. Chen’s biography–where she lists her thesis as “Free Jazs and Radical Politics” and one her prime mentors as “the ocean” was bewitching enough But once one forgot the horrible name of the piece, it was a gorgeous picture both of the ocean, and (since it was about the movements of schools of fish), chaos or indeterminate theory.
Nothing, though, was musically indeterminate. The unceasingly dark tones (timpani rolls, double-basses) was subterraneanly pelagic enough. The movements of the instruments past each other were graphic, unexpected, usually soothing. (One or two splashes of chords was hopefully, not a small fish being eaten by a larger fish.) This could have been John Williams Jaws music, but was far too busy for such shenanigans/ Ms. Chen, not yet even 30, has a great future, I feel.
The two “establishment” works, Ligeti’s five-movement Piano Concerto, and John Cage’s no-movement Concert for Piano and Orchestra, were given good performances by a Belgian and American pianist, both of whom have had personal experiences with both composers. Mr. Vandewalle somehow made the dizzying Ligeti Concerto seem almost simple. How he crossed and uncrossed arms, how he took the duple and triple meters in his stride with the orchestra was beyond comprehension, but he turned Ligeti’s late work sound like a youthful dance into jazz, chaos and even melody.
Confessedly, I can’t get my ears around the John Cage aleatory Concert. Too much philosophy to absorb, too many worries which of the 64 mini-themes would be chosen by the pianist, which instruments would blurt out which sounds. I am too spoiled for that and want my music given on a platter so I can listen musically. Mea culpa and all that!!
Back to conductor Kotik. How he would conduct Bruckner or Bach or Borodin is a question, nor could one think about “interpretation.” For much of this concert he had to either stand like a traffic cop (the Cage) or direct the orchestra in three or four meters simultaneously (the Ligeti) or to make a large school of fish move slowly in different patterns.
He certainly accomplished that apparently impeccably. And for those who missed this concert they can hear different miracles at the Czech Center on Friday, April 15.