Posts Tagged ‘Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble’

vcme: the essence

February 21, 2011

VCME poster

The Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble‘s winter concert theme was “The Essence” featuring a program described as “new world music”, including two premieres.

The theme goes far beyond the surface meaning, as the program showcased not only new pieces written for ‘world music’ instruments including the traditional African djembe and the marimba, along with David Loeb’s serialized “Study in Asian Pipes” – the music’s international flavor was in fact the very embodiment of our ‘new world’ of borderless influences and communication. (Does anyone even remember a time now before our world was internationalized, when cooking ingredients like that delicious red Vietnamese hot sauce, Iranian pomegranate molasses, and 35 kinds of gourmet Tuscan pasta weren’t part of everday grocery store offerings?)

The first thing that struck me about the presentation was the flow of the music. Both how it was programmed, with Loeb’s delicate flute studies acting as preludes and interludes woven between the other works, and also in the cohesiveness with which the various instrumentations of the pieces melded.

Peter Matthews

Highlights included Peter Matthews’ snappy version of Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonte’s technically challenging showpiece, “Central Guitar”; flutist Laurel Maurer’s fluid versatility in her myriad roles playing piccolo, flute, and alto flute; and the ensemble work in – especially – the two premieres on the program, Derrik Jordan’s colorful “Astonishing Visions”, and Dennis Báthory-Kitsz’s earthy “Gié”.

I want to talk for a moment in particular about the rhythmic opening movement of Derrik Jordan’s “Astonishing Visions”. It’s a segment called “Berimbau Ghosts”. I listened to it before I read Jordan’s program notes. It began with Bonnie Thurber Klimowski rhythmically bowing her cello and creating an eerie, punctuated, note-bending effect. In the fact that a traditional cello bow was missing from the performance (Klimowski was instead using a conductor’s baton to emulate the wooden stick utilized in playing a Brazilian berimbau) it occurred to me I just might be hearing a musical metaphor for the ‘Ghosts’ of the disappearing Amazon hardwood forests which have been the historic source of the wood used to make violin and cello bows. (And clarinets and English horns and oboes too for that matter.) The piece certainly worked on that level of reference, making me consider a thought I’ve had from time to time- what will our world’s music sound like when the trees used to make instruments are gone?

Well it turns out, now that I’ve read Jordan’s notes, his intent with the piece speaks more to Brazil’s slave-owning history than to its deforested future. The berimbau was traditionally played by slaves to accompany a dance/martial art form called the Capoeira, the very method by which they were eventually able to overthrow their Colonial masters. That brings a whole new level of understanding to the sharply percussive feel of the “Berimbau Ghosts” movement.

It is a delight and real privilege to share a room with musicians of this caliber AND the composers of the works being performed. Three days ago Vermont’s governor declared 2011 the “Year of the Composer” in Vermont. The VCME assures that our state’s composers will keep more than busy creating new music in the coming year and well beyond.

Thanks to everyone involved in making this very special experience possible.

Today’s VCME concert was at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier, VT. It was the second of the two in the winter concert series, with the first happening last night at the Flynn Space in Burlington. Next concerts are April 1st and 3rd in Montpelier and Burlington, respectively. The theme for those two will be “A Touch of Wonder”. Season schedule details can be found here.

2/21/11 – Ed. note: Derrik Jordan was kind enough to offer a correction regarding the instrument with which Bonnie Klimowski struck her cello strings at the opening of “Berimbau Ghosts”. It was a conductor’s baton. That information has been incorporated into the original text of this review. Thank you Derrik!

vcme: 2NewToo

February 6, 2010


David Ludwig: Haiku Catharsis
David Feurzeig: Fauxbourdon (hommage à Dufay)
Thomas Read: What Story Awaits Its End
György Ligeti: Etudes for Piano
Nicolas Chlebak: The Consuming Bog
David Feurzeig: Fauxbourdon (hommage à Dufay) – (the Ensemble played this in both halves of the program – nice!)
David Feurzeig: Stride Right

The Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble continues to champion the newest of newly written works, and the current program – 2NewToo – features three premieres.

I really enjoyed the lineup, and the program offered such a fresh array of sounds I can’t imagine anyone having the opportunity to walk away disappointed.

From the lonely metallic overtones of the bowed vibraphone that opened the show (with something like a violin bow but larger and stringier) in Ludwig’s Haiku Catharsis to the flashes of fragmented harmonic brilliance illuminating Fauxburdon, Feurzig’s homage to French master Guillaume Dufay, the concert offered a rewarding stroll through an imaginative sonic garden.

Michael Arnowitt gave a characteristically insightful performance of Ligeti’s Etudes (five, taken from Books 1 & 2) including the starkly radiant Arc en Ciel; and the triads permeating Read’s new piece cast a comforting glow of tonal warmth in an otherwise disquieting landscape. It was also a pleasure to hear how the young composer Nicolas Chlebak realized his vision of nocturnal misadventure in the The Consuming Bog, an eerily serene vignette carried along by ominous undercurrents.

I liked what Thomas Read said, in describing his composing approach: “I open the box and shake out all the pieces to see how they can be reassembled in an interesting way.”

The VCME is Steven Klimowski, clarinets; Laurel Ann Maurer, flutes; Bonnie Thurber Klimowski, cello; Thomas Read, violin; David Feurzeig, piano; with special guest pianist Michael Arnowitt for this performance. The second of the two “2 New Too” performances is happening tonight at the McCarthy Arts Center at St. Michael’s College, 8pm.

vcme winter concert: 2newtoo

February 6, 2010

This weekend is another adventurous outing with Vermont’s Contemporary Music Ensemble! Tonight’s winter concert includes two new works by two Vermont composers, Thomas Read and David Feurzeig. The program also includes The Consuming Bog by 17-year old Nicolas Chlebak (winner of the 2009 Vermont All State composer competition) and a work by VSO composer-in-residence, David Ludwig. The second half of the concert begins with pianist Michael Arnowitt performing a handful of of the Etudes for Piano by György Ligeti.

I went to VCME’s concert last night (same program) at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier – stay tuned for pictures and the recap!

kissed by the wild

November 14, 2009


Zachary Cooper: Caterpillar Secrets (premiere)
Peter Hamlin: Visions of Ice (premiere)
Olivier Messiaen: Le rouge-gorge (The Robin) from Petites esquisses d’oiseaux
Olivier Messiaen: Par Lui tout a été fait (By Him everything was made) from Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus
Chan Ka Nin: I Think That I Shall Never See….

The Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble describes their fall program – Kissed by the Wild – as “music inspired by the natural world”. That idea is embodied in both the concept and form of the music itself. It’s also carried out in the woody, expansive resonances of the cello and piano, and the myriad of chirping, warbling, voicings coaxed from the clarinet and flute of the VCME’s talented performers.

I sat next to a man named Jim at last night’s concert. With an apologetic half-shrug he bashfully described himself as ‘old fashioned’ when we talked at intermission, after I asked what he had thought of the first half: Cooper’s colorful Caterpillar Secrets, and Hamlin’s starkly contrasting Visions of Ice. I was thinking maybe Mozart or Bach, but it turns out that Jim’s tastes run more toward Leadbelly and traditional folk roots. “But,” he added, “I really liked this.” So did I.

It’s always especially exciting to be in the audience for the premiere of a new piece, much less two, as filled up the entire first half of this concert.  These two new works were complementary yet completely different in character. The sunny lyricality of Cooper’s whimsical Caterpillars was very soon matched by the cool, sharp, whispering soundscape of Hamlin’s Visions (inspired – and accompanied by – his wife Chris Robbins’ detailed closeup photos of eight different ice formations). Like the first frigid breeze that whips the leaves from the branches at the end of an Indian summer afternoon, Visions‘ presence was punctuated by gusts of glissandi from the alto flute and clarinet, alternating and combining with the cello’s plucking and raspy bowing, all accented with Peter Hamlin’s real-time electronic replay.

Visions‘ musical geneology is loosely rooted in the specialized genre of compositions exemplified by landmarks like Alan Hovhaness’ And God Created Great Whales (for orchestra and taped whale song) and Einojuhani Rautavaara’s marvelous Cantus Arcticus (with pre-recorded bird song captured near the Arctic Circle). Both of these pieces were conceived in the early 1970s (1970 and 1972, respectively) – not coincidentally, at the very same time newly awakened eco-awareness marked the downbeat for the environmental movement, the first Earth Day (1970) and the worldwide Earth Art movement.

Where Visions branches off from the genre is in its technique: the electronic overlay is an organic product of real-time creation, not pre-recording. The composer, Peter Hamlin, had a small table set up in front of the stage, facing the performers, just to the left. The table held an assortment of electronic recording and processing equipment, along with a music stand holding his copy of the score. At key dramatic moments in the 8-movement piece, Hamlin layered electronically-enhanced instrumental passages into the mix, recorded just a few bars before and played back right away to add another instrumental texture to the experience. The effect was evocative and surprisingly subtle, giving the pieces a cinematic depth: think of Iceland’s frozen beauty in Cold Fever, or Warner Herzog’s remarkable documentary from last year, Encounters At The End Of The World. In Hamlin’s work, the ensemble itself replaces the birds and whales of the earlier Hovhaness and Rautavaara pieces to represent the ever-changing infused ‘natural’ element.

Hamlin’s Visions of Ice is a celebration of the oncoming season’s austerity. Rather than taking the easy route and merely reflecting its most obvious surface characteristics of darkness and cold, Hamlin’s musical landscape works both on the panoramic and more detailed scale to affirm that wintertime is anything but lifeless. You just have to know how to appreciate its subtleties.

Michael Arnowitt’s solo piano tour-de-force was the highlight of the second half, with compelling and powerful performances (from memory – no easy accomplishment) of two formidable Messian works, and Cha Na Kin’s I Think That I Shall Never See…., inspired by the Joyce Carol Oates poem. Over the years I’ve heard Michael play jazz, Mozart, and a lot of nice but fairly standard concert fare. He always plays well, expressively, and brings a lot of himself to the music. But I’ve never heard him play with the intensity and purpose with which his Messiaen was infused last night. His performance was driven, his interpretation of Messiaen in turns feverish and inspired, and ponderous and introspective. In other words: just as it should be for the emotional complexity and tension of these pieces.

Kissed by the Wild is a program inspired by the natural world, but also seems to emerge from it organically as surely as the first flakes of winter are followed by coiled verdant tendrils growing and waiting to break through the crusted snow of early spring.

The VCME is Steven Klimowski, clarinets; Berta Frank, flutes; Bonnie Thurber Klimowski, cello; Paula Ennis, piano; with special guest pianist Michael Arnowitt for this performance. The second of the two “Kissed by the Wild” performances is happening tonight at the Flynn Space, 8pm.

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