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The Electronic and the Sublime

New York
10/05/2011 -  
Missy Mazzoli: Dissolve, O my Heart (World Premiere of new arrangement)
Randall Woolf: No Axe To Grind
John King: Prima Volta (World Premiere)
Cornelius Dufallo: Three Violin Loops
John Luther Adams: Three High Places
Armando Bayolo: Tusch (World Premiere)

Cornelius Dufallo (Violin)

C. Dufallo (© Coco T. Dawg)

Cornelius Dufallo could have had a comfortable life as a virtuoso fiddler, dashing through Bach and Bruch, Brahms and Berg. Instead, as he stated last night in his brilliant BargeMusic solo recital, his path has taken an entirely different turn.

“I am searching,” he said, “for the violin repertoire of the 21st Century.”

His programs, entitled “Journaling”, means not only associating himself with the finest composers of our times, but working with them, and inviting them to write or arrange works that would include violinist and–inevitably–electronics.

Typical was Mr. Dufallo’s project with composer John King. After performing a 43-minute quartet by Mr. King last year, he has the chutzpah to ask him, “Do you think you could arrange seven minutes of this piece for solo violin?”

With another performer, Mr. King might have laughed. But some time later, the composer presented Mr. Dufallo with seven minutes for violin and computer. But there was a catch. The phrase “World Premiere” and the title , meaning “First Time” might both be misnomers.

The computer program is so complex that the work is always a first time and always a premiere. Mr. Dufallo played the sounds, the computer played them back, but with the aleatory variations that would change from performance to performance.

Thus, the computer started by repeating the first phrases, the phrasing becoming more intense or suddenly stopping, and Mr. Dufallo continued. The result was a series of echoes and resonances which became richer and more intense as the work went on. It was a fascinating experience.

The same type of sounds were in Armando Bayolo’s Tusch. Now you and I might think this is a Yiddish word for a baby’s bottom. Apparently, this is an ancient German word for toccata. (Who knew?)

Like many a Bach toccata, it was written with three movements, and in each, Mr. Bayolo explored different challenges–with the computer echoing, varying and singling out phrases for repetition. Thus, Mr. Dufallo’s violin was as rich as a full string orchestra at times.

Not that he needed the computer. Obviously his mastery of his acoustic instrument is so great that not a single trick or technique is foreign to him. He can simultaneously pick a pizzicato and lustfully distort the sound with hard bow playing on the strings. Or he can play a set of lyrical melodies–as he did in Missy Mazzoli’s splendid arrangement of Dissolve, O My Heart, inspired by a simple Bach chaconne. The computer here offered different digital delays in some of the more complex variations, but they were hardly needed.

When he played his own Violin Loops, with the computer looping his own work, it again gave that rich intense feeling, not of a string orchestra behind him, but of his own work multiplied, put into another sphere.

Two pieces needed no computer. Randall Woolf wrote a piece for violin and rap singer. In this case, the San Francisco artist Tongo Eisen-Martin gave a recorded presentation, while Mr. Dufallo played against the words, and later–again with themes of Bach–played solo.

My own favorite was from the Alaska-residing John Luther Adams, who loves his home with venerations and homages. The title Three High Places refers to specific heights in the Alaskan Rockies, with sounds that seemed to echo the very spaciousness of his locales.

A lesser composter might have given the violin time for echoes and resonances, as if calling from one peak to another. And yes, this was part of the triptych. Mr. Adams was looking for other sounds, and these he achieved not through the usual stopped strings. Instead, every single tone from the natural harmonic sounds from open strings.

The result from Mr. Dufallo was a magical landscape. If one didn’t know the title, Three High Places might have been imagined in a cave or some spectral landscape. But with those tiny clues, one was able to follow Messrs Adams and Dufallo through a landscape of unerring (if sometimes unsettling) empyrean other-worldliness.

Harry Rolnick



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