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Galactic String Theory

New York
Crypt, Church of the Intercession
05/17/2024 -  
Katherine Balch: drip music
Hannah Ishizaki: In A Room
Nina Shekhar: if these walls
Kennedy Taylor Dixon: the walls kept me warm
Paul Wiancko: LIFT

Green Room Ensemble: Pala Garcia, Nathan Meltzer (Violins), Andrew Gonzalez (Viola), Coleman Itzkoff, Christine Lamprea (Cellos)

K. Taylor Dixon, K. Balch (© Yaz Lancaster/Bluebird Photography UK)

A very little key will open a very heavy door.
Charles Dickens

All things can be deadly to us, even the things made to serve us; as in nature walls can kill us, and stairs can kill us, if we do not walk circumspectly.
Blaise Pascal, Pensées

“Death of Classical” is now established as a series of fungible surprises, embracing established artists, new composers and ensembles like last night’s fearless Green Room Ensemble. Yet Death of Classical’s moving spirit, Andrew Ousley’s major trademark has been to take the “death” title literally. His frequent productions take place in cemeteries and crypts in Manhattan and Brooklyn with sold‑out... er, benches? Pews? Last night was in the Crypt of the Church of the Intercession, its simple graveyard spoiled only by a monstrous cenotaph for ornithologist Audubon.

Even more interesting is that, no matter how eclectic the ensembles, how bizarre the new composition, not a single word of description or explanation ever appears in the single‑page program. And that means if you don’t listen carefully, the notes become anagrams rather than compositions.

Last night was partly challenging, partly sheer enjoyment. Katherine Balch’s opening drip music was exactly that. It opened with four players playing–wait for it–drips. Drips with plucking, sliding, whispering soft droplets (or driplets) becoming, if not louder, than more substantial, graduating to a full measure of dancing tones.

Following this, the leader of Green Room Ensemble, violinist Nathan Meltzer, played a hideously difficult solo in front of composer Hannah Ishizaki.

The quartet continued with Kennedy Taylor Dixon’s the walls kept me warm. One felt for the first time a real (or perhaps in my imagination) homage to the past. Had Antonín Dvorák lived in the 21st Century, his instinctive warmth, of elegiac lament, of hushed melody, made itself felt.

H. Ishizaki, N. Shekhar (© Fred R. Conrad/Shervin Lainez)

The penultimate work, Nina Shekhar’s if these walls, was played by the two cellists, Coleman Itzkoff and Christine Lamprea. Like the other works, this bordered on the strange–yet it was oddly bumptious, amusing, unexpected. Mr. Itzkoff started with a kind of syncopated riff, Ms. Lamprea played an entirely different series of jolts, and the two continued with always inventive development becoming more and intricate. Finally, Mr. Izkoff went back to that old‑fashioned rhythmic cell.

Not necessarily the “best” (whatever that means), but by far the longest, and most complex was Paul Wiancko’s LIFT. As cellist with the Kronos Quartet, he obviously has an insider’s look at one of the two or three most innovative ensembles in the world. And LIFT was a three‑movement 22‑minutes of galactic technical proportions–but with a wonderful tricky foundation.

The structures were of quantum complexity. They ranged from the most complex eight‑part counterpoint (yes, all four players were double-stringing or fiddling and pizzicato‑ing simultaneously) to a second‑movement chorale to a lovely solo by violist Andrew Gonzalez.

Yet out of this delicious morass came almost endless American-style tunes. Like later Bartók, one never recognized them, and they were nuances, shadows of melodies. Perhaps syncopation, perhaps an interval that could have come from a Martha Graham ballet. Yet, again like Bartók with Magyar themes, these diatonic measures were hidden in a jungle of wondrous sounds.

To end this quintet with such a baroque work was a credit to Mr. Wiancko’s mastery of a plethora lines. More than that, it was a work of both elation and (at times) ecstasy.

Harry Rolnick



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