Thursday, March 05, 2009

Berio-ed by the Mob

Mobtown Modern: Sequenzathon (almost) the complete Seqenzas (1958 - 2002) @ The Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, MD
Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Luciano Berio's Sequenzas

Sequenza I (1958)
Sequenza II (1963)

Sequenza III (1965)

Sequenza V (1965)

Sequenza VI (1967)

Sequenza VIIa (1969)

Sequenza VIII (1976)

Sequenza IXb (1981)
Brian Sacawa: alto saxophone

Sequenza X (1984)
Dolf Kamper: trumpet in C

Sequenza XI (1987 - 88)

Sequenza XIII (1995)
Lidia Kaminska: accordion

Sequenza XIV (2002)
Nathan Bontrager: cello

Down in the main gallery space of the Contemporary Museum the chairs were set, the blank wall cleared for the video machinations of Guy Werner as music stands held copious amounts of white pages for a multi-course feast of Berio's solo works.  Performer after performer bringing their most intense stare upon pages as the eyes consumed virtuosic scores from start to finish with music that often strained the limits of instrument and virtuosity.  What emerged from the saturation of rich and dissonant works was an odd mix of unwavering intensity against a maturing compositional force.  The characteristic voice of this fascinating Italian composer became clearer as each work charted his chronological progress as an artist.  The overlap of ideas steadily becoming more apparent against the contrasting textures found in the long string of pieces.  The endurance run through the dense thickness of difficult works offering many rewards.  The appeal drawing Mobtown Modern to take an extended presentation of this music becoming clear with each soloist.

The consistency of performances was striking.  Each meeting the challenges presented on the score while bringing out the impressive musicality Berio invested in these compositions.  The stark, ferociously plucked harp strings and pedal work of Sequenza II offered an early glimpse into the physicality, and near aerobic feats later realized in Sequenza XIII for accordion.  The dramatic gestures and theater of Sequenza III for soprano voice setting up nicely for Dan Blacksburg's colorful clown attire in Sequenza V for trombone.

Following up her outstanding performance of Giacinto Scelsi's Mantos III from last January Wendy Richman presented a spellbinding interpretation of Sequenza VI with an aggressive performance of a piece that nearly saws the neck off of the viola with thrilling sonic results.  Brian Sacawa made the demands of Sequenza IXb into a passionate - at times plaintive - voice for a sound that carves moments of sustained human frailty within a jagged, forceful sonic language.  And there were still more moments of impressively virtuosic feats that reinforced that sense of passion and grit in all the late Sequenzas.

The final Sequenza XIV for cello made a sharp turn toward realizing snippets of softly realized grooves as Nathan Bontrager's fingers struck the body of the cello to vibrate the fingered strings.  Moments of softness sliced by a piece that stripped several strands from the bow over the course of this performance of Berio's final installment of a lifelong body of solo works.  The phrases clearly echoing ideas explored earlier in the evening on guitar, trumpet or violin.  Berio's sensibilities having crystallized into something recognizable by the end of this experience.

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