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Review: ICE and Mivos quartet at Roulette: Nono, Lachenmann, Ashley Fure, and Chaya Czernowin part 1

Hey everyone!

During the day on Tuesday, I fluttered back and forth about whether I was going to go to this concert at Roulette. To think what I would’ve missed had I not coughed up the 22$ to go makes me shudder.

This concert, part of the 70th anniversary Darmstadt celebrations, tip-toed out of the gate with a 1951 Luigi Nono composition, Polifonica-Monodica–Ritmica, played by the ICE. Softly ringing cymbals and ppp flute, clarinet, and french horn usher in a barely perceptible march that gradually gains momentum, like toys coming to life in the night. Soon the whispered opening evolves into pellucid polyphony; the snare introduces the rhythm of the idea; the ICE was right to play this with crisp articulateness, as other recordings I’ve heard sound floaty. The malleted cymbal gives a soft glowing shadow behind the crystalline horns. The pulse quickens. The writing is superb, with each voice easily identified, neither strident nor vague, but incisive and matter of fact. The writing shows clear Suddenly articulated chords hit you, like a barrage of gun-fire, punctuated by low piano. Presently we enter a snare-based, syncopated zone, which ends surprisingly on a cymbal crash, leading into the ideas from the polyphony being fragmented among the horns, there is a sudden upward moving dominant 7th-ish (maybe a #13) chord which bounces upward with clarinet/piano (I’m trying to recall exactly, I may be imprecise!). The last section is separated by a single growled horn blast (the horn part, which is demanding and muted trumpet-esque, was expertly played), erupting upon the audience with the drama of Italian opera. The thing I most love about this piece is how Nono focuses the audiences attention carefully on his ideas, and then uses simple techniques (a single note, a cymbal crash) to add gateways between them. It’s a testament to the fact that it’s not always what you use, but how you use it. The writing is marvelously clear, and, if the later counterpoint of the piece seems perhaps less directed than that of the opening, his control of pacing and proportion is masterly.

So next in the concert, we had a string quartet by Scott Wollschleger, called “White Wall”—which played with the noises of static and electronic “white noise”. Although I want to focus on the Lachenmann, I’ll talk about this quartet a little. It opens with a jagged upward string line ending in a fierce pizz note–a brilliant evocation of radio static before the station turns on. This 4 second opening which bursts with energy leads into a prolonged section of whispered, glissandi bow noises (sounding like gusts of high pitched air), this culminates in a downward melody played in extremely high harmonics while the bows continue sliding downward around it, somewhat like an air tunnel (to my ears, at least). I absolutely loved this section. Now, in my opinion, the piece is slightly less focused from then on out, with lots of cool hints at great ideas that crowd one another slightly, leaving my ears searching for clarity. The proportions of the “middle” of the piece could perhaps be more effectively arranged. The “dance” that ends the quartet is lovely but too short! Really awesome to hear this piece. It had a wit and a cleverness that was very winning, and a wonderful attention to timbre and texture. I’ll certainly never forget that high descending melody encased by the wind tunnel of the other bows.

So, the next piece dropped with the force of a hurricane onto the audience. Lachenmann’s String Quartet 3. And I will discuss that and Ashley Fure’s piece in part 2!

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