Marc Sabat: Euler Lattice Spirals Scenery
Derek Bermel: Intonations
Cenk Ergun: Celare
Cenk Ergun: Sonare
Just when, like the school year, the official 2015-2016 music season is pretty much done and over with, and you think you can now relax and enjoy some shamelessly low-brow down-time, come the New York Philharmonic's music director Alan Gilbert and his irresistibly ambitious and wide-ranging second NY Phil Biennial, whose main mission is to put together programs of new music that he and his team think we should hear. And whatever the New York Philharmonic says...
True to form, the intermission-free, 90-minute opening concert featured recent works by contemporary composers as diverse as Marc Sabat, Derek Bermel and Cenk Ergun. Appropriately enough, the ensemble that had been tasked to headline this exciting undertaking was no less than the JACK Quartet, whose brilliance and audacity have been persuasively demonstrated over and over again.
So last Monday evening a sizable crowd had clearly heeded the call for adventure and packed up the 92nd Street Y's dark, intimate and acoustically friendly Buttenwieser Hall, ready to embark on this promising exploration of unchartered but alluring new territories.
The first piece, which was also a New York premiere, turned out to be the brainiest of the lot, and that is actually saying something. Although Marc Sabat's Euler Lattice Spirals Scenery occasionally felt more like an abstruse academic exercise conceived for the illuminati than an artistic endeavor destined for the general public, its assured development from bare sustained notes to complex flights of fancy was often fascinating. And if its 30-minute running time may at first have seemed more than sufficient, its power of hypnosis made it also easy for the listener to get lost in a time-warp and marvel at the originality of the composition. The intriguing experiment was all the more mesmerizing as the JACK Quartet totally lived up to their reputation of technical mastery and laser-sharp precision.
After such an otherworldly experience, we all happily landed back on earth with the world premiere of Derek Bermel's Intonations, whose many compelling movements revolved around significantly different musical influences such as swing, jazz, blues, rock and hip-hop. Inspired by Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and its exploration of the human voice, the spontaneously engaging bouquet of sounds and the quartet's consistently infectious playing reminded us all that a substantial undertaking can be a lot of fun too.
We stayed in the realm of intellectually stimulating entertainment with the New York premiere of Cenk Ergun's two tasty nuggets "Celare" and "Sonare". "Celare" started and ended with the musicians playing the strings with their left hand and doing nothing with their right hand, therefore producing no sounds. In between stood out a harmonically rich tapestry that slowly but surely built up for a gripping result. "Sonare", on the other hand, was all non-stop high-energy, speed and agitation, as well as an unusual star turn for the viola, everything being always tightly controlled and flawlessly performed by the consummate musicians.
By all accounts, modern music is definitely alive and doing well too.