Sunday, September 23, 2007

Variously Indeterminate

Relache with special guests The Zs @ the Sanctuary in the Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia, PA
Sunday, September 23, 2007

Living Room Music by John Cage
December 1952 by Earle Brown
Ryoanji by John Cage
Grete by Christian Wolff
4 Systems by Earle Brown (performed by The Zs)
December 1952 by Earle Brown (performed by Relache with The Zs)

Relache opened up their 2007/2008 season with a program featuring three-quarters of the "New York School" as sonic arguments for compositional indeterminacy unfolded beautifully before the frescoes, saints and virgin Mary found within the old Church of the Evangelist sanctuary within the Fleisher Art Memorial. The faithful, focused interpretations of this music found a receptive congregation within the narrow sanctuary space that proved to be an ideal acoustic match for the warm, detached sonorities of this strain of American music.

Living Room Music is a pulsating work that makes use of found objects, voices and flute to create an inviting, playful sound. The soft texture of slapped knees, newspapers, plastic containers over whistles and spoken variations upon the phrase "once upon a time" shimmered with an unpretentious joy that set the tone for the afternoon concert.

December 1952 is one of the great graphic scores by Earle Brown that blurs the line between improvisation and indeterminacy as the wide range of interpretive freedoms extended toward the performers is counterbalanced by the singular shared focus upon the visual elements of the score. The spirited interpretation offered by Relache was a tantalizingly brief glimpse of the sonic beauty such an ensemble can coax from the sparse dashes and lines found upon a sheet of paper. The second performance of this same piece - this time augmented by the Zs - was an even more stunning sonic postcard.

Ryoanji was performed by Lloyd Shorter on oboe, Chris Hanning on percussion and three recordings of oboe with the playback controlled by other members of the Relache ensemble. Shorter performed his part from the back of the sanctuary while the other parts emanated from the front. The spatial elements of this piece offset the narrow timbral range of this haunting work. John Cage is such an endless source of amazing, beautiful music. I'm stunned at how often I'm struck by his ideas and how deeply his music affects me. This is a particularly beautiful piece that I was not yet familiar with.

Grete is a new work by Christian Wolff that was specifically commissioned by the Relache ensemble. As the final surviving member of the "New York School," Wolff is still composing new works that make use of indeterminacy. This particular performance was the highlight of the afternoon as Relache took advantage of the range of choices left to them by the composer to fashion a varied, multi-movement interpretation from the raw compositional materials as they applied a refined sense of balance and form. They also made good use of their ears as they reinforced the interdependence of the individual parts. This was a beautiful, joyous sonority that blossomed from the seeds of Living Room Music.

The Zs are a cross-over oddity with boundless potential. It's rare when a single ensemble can offer a credible conduit between chamber music and rock. The four members perform while facing each other within a tight square formation. Ben Greenberg's unamplified electric guitar was a particularly nice touch for their quiet interpretation of 4 Systems. The photocopies of the altered Earle Brown score left on the seats during intermission was suggestive of the band art found on fliers and posters stapled to telephone poles. This meshed well with the overall theme of unpretentious regard for art and found objects.

No comments: