Giorgio Koukl | 1 MAR 2020
In a Sunday afternoon concert at Kopleff Recital Hall in Atlanta, Georgia, contemporary chamber music ensemble Bent Frequency presented the works of seven composers chosen from over 500 entries to a “call for scores” by the ensemble.
The performers, flutist Sarah Kruser Ambrose, clarinetist Ted Gurch, saxophonist Jan Berry Baker, violinist Helen Hwaya Kim, violist Tania Maxwell Clements, cellist Jean Gay, pianist Erika Tazawa, and percussionists Stuart Gerber and Khesner Oliveira, played works of extreme variety and also of many different levels of content.
All musicians appeared highly motivated, well prepared, and ready to do their best for the music they played. As the compositions were mostly linked to a classic avant-garde style, similar to experimental works of the 1970s, with few exemptions only, the task of preparing such an amount of music was certainly not a small one, and this has to be admired.
The concert opened with a short cello solo piece called Berté Litice, la suite (Introduction) written by Michelle Bourdeau. It was one of only two works written for a solo instrument.
Usually, a composer’s most challenging task is to write music that is meaningful enough to be presented by a solo instrument only, logically excluding classical solo instruments like a piano or organ. Luckily, solo cello repertoire is abundant, and this short work can probably find its place even in a less experimental environment.
A second piece, named En attendant Berté Litice (IV) by the same composer, followed. Its style was so different it was pretty difficult to believe these two works were a product of the same composer. The suggestive interplay of two percussionists, also using some unorthodox pieces of metallic structures and completing the music with singing, whistling, and groaning, was, to a certain degree, inspired by the world-famous Japanese percussion ensemble KODO.
Then, announced as a program change (a swap in order), came the work of Alex Burtzos called pOwer trIo for piano, saxophone, and percussion. I liked this music very much, giving it in my mind the first prize among all the other works, as it appeared well-rooted in a broader field of jazz-related productions.
The following two works before the intermission were Olga Krasenko‘s Field not Field and a study over rarefied sound emissions, Integrity, by Ethan Soledad (1999-), a Filipino-American composer. Neither of these was able to raise itself over the already enormous compound of similar music, a difficulty each young composer must face today.
After an intermission, the concert continued with a lengthy solo saxophone work, called …as far as the eye can see… by the Malaysian composer Hong-Da Chin. The main idea was to explore the possible sound emissions of a saxophone in all its boundaries. While the concept was certainly a fascinating essay for a specialist, on the other side there is probably no big chance for this music to finish in regular programs of any concert hall. Once again, writing music for a single instrument proved the most challenging field for any composer.
Next came a trio piece called A Poppy of Erasure, written by Mischa Salkind-Pearl, another study about rhythm and rarefying the material until homeopathically diluted. While this can be a great field of research and experimentation, this technique, used alone, will never be able to produce effectual music without any help of harmony and melody, at least if the composer wants to retain the attention of their public over a longer time.
The final piece, Invocation of Eternal Voices, was written by Kyle Rivera. A result of many cross-overs, it definitely had a subtle, fascinating aura of unpredictability. The sources of inspiration were undoubtedly many, maybe far too many to be noticed. Among them, I would like to cite the quasi-Klezmer sound in the wonderful rendering by clarinetist Ted Gurch. Maybe not an immediate public-pleaser, but quite interesting and never boring.
The fascinating possibility of listening to a complete concert of exclusively new music and having the opportunity to confront the different stylistic tendencies – some new, some already too widely explored – was the main contribution of Bent Frequency’s program. ■
- Bent Frequency: bentfrequency.com