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Eight Semi-Precious Jewels

New York
National Sawdust
11/02/2017 -  
David Feurzeig: Lingua Franca (New York Premiere)
Pierce Gradone: The Art of Falling
Texu Kim: Co.Ko. – un poco Loco
Aaron Mencher: Rise
Robert Paterson: Ouvir Estrelas (World Premiere) – I See You (Quintet version; New York Premiere)
Ronaldo Miranda: Retrato
Cláudio Santoro: Amor en lágrimas

American Modern Ensemble members: Juliana Franco (Soprano), Dave Eggar (Cello), Louis Levitt (Bass), Blair McMillen (Piano); Sybarite5: Sami Merdinian, Sarah Whitney (Violins), Angela Pickett (Viola), Laura Metcalf (Cello)

A. Mencher/R. Paterson (© Courtesy of the Artists)

Thirteen years ago, a disused 19th Century sawdust factory/warehouse, was converted to abruptly soaring music auditorium, with towering spaces, room for about 300, futuristic lighting, and a restaurant/bar.

And National Sawdust today is not only part of trendy Williamsburg, but has been home to some of the world’s most illustrious contemporary composers and musicians, from Philip Glass to Terry Riley and John Zorn, with hosts like Esa-Pekka Salonen.

As well as–and this is the most important element– today’s young, dazzling, unknown, inventive creators. In fact, last night, seven of the composers were entirely new to me. (Granted, ConcertoNet must cover all the New York concerts, not the more interesting contemporary scene). Robert Paterson was the only familiar name. Yet it was difficult not to fall madly in love with the variety, the verve, the vivacity from the performers and the music.

As for the variety, the evening started with Most Honorable Farce in David Feurzeig’s Lingua Franca, and finished with Mr. Paterson’s so rich, so touching quintet set in a hospital room with his perhaps dying father. In between were two Portuguese fado songs, another enchanting Portuguese poem set as an opera aria, and a three-movement work which crashed, clashed, created and destroyed jazz and pop together.

That was Korean-born Texu Kim’s Co.Ko. – un poco Loco, played by the brilliant Blair McMillen. The piano began with rolling variations on one chord, branched out to a kind of stride-piano which didn’t quite stride enough. What was Mr. Kim doing? In the second movement “Emperor of Ballads”, he started with the kind of cocktail/salon music so beloved by the otherwise lachrymost Valentine Silvestrov. But then Mr. Kim confounded the melody with slashing chords up and down the keyboard.

Not out of disrespect, perhaps, but to suddenly turn from soothing logic to post-modern warfare. The finale was “Jingle Up!!”, more upbeat music, a sort of tour de force for the pianist.

Two other works were, to my ears, not so memorable. Actually Aaron Mencher’s Rise for solo cello was a terrific showpiece for Dave Eggar, and it did rise from lowest cello notes up to the top, with all the tricks of the trade.

T. Kim/D. Feurzeig (© Courtesy of the Artists)

Another work for pianist McMillen was Pierce Gradone’s The Art of Falling. Mr. Gradone’s program notes were far more visual than what I found from the piano notes. “Struck by a diver in free fall (he) attempted to empathize with him by attempting to reconstruct the mind’s journey from the precipice before the fall to the moment when the ambiguities of the ground below would begin to shed their abstraction.”

Whew! That’s quite a chore, even more so with further writing about different kinds of falls including falling asleep. The piano work was difficult, emphasizing the top and bottom of the keyboard, had repetitions of different musical cells, seemed to end with many a bump to the ground. Mr. Gradone obviously knew exactly what he wanted to say, but to my ears, it gave more an indication of Mr. McMillen’s expertise.

Its complexity, repetition and exhaustive length were such that the following two Portuguese songs, what are usually mournful melodies, were the most welcome reprieve. Soprano Juliana Franco’s voice was light in the pairing, but this was a case where words were vital, and mood was essential, and personal memories of entertainments in (once) Portuguese Macao were like shadows becoming alive.

Robert Paterson’s first offering was from a Brazilian poet, Olavo Bilac’s, Ouvir Estrelas (“Listen to stars”), wonderful verses in English. The original Portuguese was sung by Ms. Franco here as an operatic aria in her highest range. The result was enthralling.

Back, though, to the start, Lingua Franca. Cellist Eggar and bassist Louis Levitt sang and played to “lyrics” which have been the caviar and Odyssey to all of us who have lived lives abroad. Specifically, mistranslations, Malopropisms, wondrous words which have little meaning. Both artists worked their way through Korean rice noodles (“No need to wet”), American chopstick wrappers (“the traditional and typical of Chinese glorious history and cultural”), a sweet lullaby for an electric blanket (“Close proximity to me, warm your.”) and Serbian elevator instructions (“Push the button for wishing floor”). Wishing has never sounded so wistful, especially with a national anthem at the end.

Pure delicious delight.

The end was Robert Paterson’s most moving quintet I See You played by the Sybarite5 quintet. The music came from Mr. Paterson’s wait in a hospital emergency room where his father is in a semi-coma. For the first two movements, we hear the electronic bells of the machines, in the last movement, the heartbeats of the composer, of his father and of his child in his wife’s womb.

Throughout, the string music is rich and tender, sometimes angry, always under the total control of this most sensitive and creative composer.

Harry Rolnick



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