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Concert Review: SW Chamber Music’s LA International
New Music Festival, concert #1

by Daniel Corral
January 29, 2013

On Saturday, 01/26/13, Southwest Chamber Music kicked off their LA International New Music Festival. The festival consists of four concerts at Zipper Hall, featuring music by composers from all over the world. This inaugural performance included compositions from Japan, China, Venezuela, and Korea.

The first piece of the concert was Takemitsu's Bryce. Takemitsu's particular orchestrational genius shone in this solid interpretation, always alluding to something tangibly Japanese. Larry Kaplan's flute was featured in this piece, doing a fine job mimicking a shakuhachi. Percussionist David Johnson accompanied him on pitched gongs, chimes, and a plethora of metal objects dipped in water, while Alison Bjorkedal and Allison Allport played dueling harps, exploring the wide world of extended harp techniques with superballs on the sounding board, harp tuner slides, knocking on the sounding board, and tuning strings a quarter-tone away from equal temperament. Though equally integral, percussionist Dave Gerhart was relegated to lots of rolls on the marimba.

The second piece on the program was Lei Liang's Listening for Blossoms. Not only was it jointly commissioned by Southwest Chamber Music and Cicada Chamber Players, it was worked on at Copland House AND the American Acadamy in Rome. With so much pedigree behind the piece, it had better damn well be breathtaking/mindblowing. Full of hocketed pointillism, much of the piece involved disguised/doubled attacks, decays, sustains, and releases that seem to be in search of new combinatorial timbres. Those timbral explorations saw the ensemble slapping on the bass neck, sliding with the harp tuner, playing inside the piano, and more. The players made a convincing argument on Lei Liang's behalf, displaying an admirable strength of unity through the piece's ADSR focus. Listening for Blossoms revolved loosely around a pentatonic+  scale, so much so that when flutist Larry Kaplan introduced a series of major scale runs, it sounded downright Western. This was immediate juxtaposed by a just-intoned wash of open string harmonics that eventually led to the entropy of the piece into silence.

The big surprise of the evening was the announcement at the beginning of the concert that trumpeter Tony Ellis had gone to the hospital that morning and would be unable to perform with the ensemble. Hopefully he is recovering well, as it it always sad to see musicians culled by health complications. Due to his hospitalization, the performance of Elliot Carter's Luimen was cancelled, as it must be hard to find a musician both free and capable of playing the part at the dead last minute. If it were the work of a lesser-known composer, there might be some disappointment at this. However, Carter was often commissioned and often performed, so this sacrifice to the Flu gods seems to be a wise one. Here's a video of Luimen being performed at Tanglewood in 2012:

With the absence of Luimen, Adina Izarra's Oratorio Profano took its spot filling out the first half of the program. This piece featured baritone Abdiel Gonzalez and mezzo soprano Laura Mercado Wright, as an angel and devil respectively. Loosely based on an interpretation of Dido's Lament, Oratorio Profano was at it's strongest when that influence was most obfuscated. Venezuelan folk music styles were also referenced and distorted in a style remiscent of the exhuberant Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas.

The U.S. premire of Unsuk Chin's cosmigimmicks filled out the second half of the program. A joint commission between the Nieuw Ensemble, Southwest Chamber Music, and the Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik, this piece featured three members of the Nieuw Ensemble. The first movement began with dead/muted notes, slowly revealing itself. A tribute to shadow puppetry, the movement sounded appropriately Carl Stalling-esque. The second movement, a tribute to Samuel Beckett's Quad, sounded like a collaboration between Andriessen and Takemitsu. The third movement, a tribute to Ligeti, began with the guitar quoting the second movement of Ligeti's Musica Ricercata, filling out the rests with dead strokes to create a steadier rhythmic pulse. As the pitch material was gradually expanded, the rest of the ensemble began their hocketed interjections. Even though this piece was performed without its trumpet part, it was still an exciting listen, full of timbral innovation and astute musical commentary.

There are still three more concerts in this new music series, featuring both living and deceased composers. I am excited to be reviewing all four performances, so stay tuned for more!

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