Sunday, January 23, 2011

Powered by Blackbirds

Eighth Blackbird: PowerFUL @ Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Saturday, January 22, 2011

Eighth Blackbird:
Tim Munro: flutes, voice
Michael J. Maccaferri: clarinets, voice
Matt Albert: violin, viola, voice
Nicholas Photinos: cello, voice
Matthew Duvall: percussion, voice
Lisa Kaplan: piano, voice

special guest:
Katherine Calcamuggio: mezzo-soprano

John Corigliano: Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (2000/09) for soprano and sextet

John Luther Adams: The Light Within (2007) for sextet and electronics

Frederic Rzewski: Coming Together (1972), arranged by Matt Albert for sextet 2000/03

Coming Together is a "powerful," and adaptable piece of music. I've heard it performed many times over the years. Most performances focus on the pulsating churn that often overwhelms the text. Allowing fragments of Attica Prison inmate Sam Melville's words to poke through just enough to reveal the chilling intensity and foreboding of the repeated words to emerge (and subsequently submerge). Rzewski doesn't specify instrumentation. Simply rhythm and an indication of where the spoken words should line up within that churn. Eighth Blackbird takes liberties within the guidelines of Coming Together that allows the full text to come to the foreground with a strong sense of dramatic purpose. Each member of the ensemble contributes to the reading of the text. The rhythmic churn begins understated. Leaving plenty of room for it to grow and build upon the intensity of the poetry. Matt Albert practically transforms into the persona of Sam Melville as the primary speaker. Pushing his own performance toward the extremes fitting the man who would become the leader and casualty of the prison riots that would erupt six months after writing these words. Words that were never lost within the performance even as the ensemble progressed along a relentless crescendo of churn. Eighth Blackbird's interpretation was absolutely devastating.

The first half of the program featured a setting of the words of Bob Dylan by John Corigliano. Songs that exist along a completely different continuum from Bob Dylan the bard. The familiar words settled into an art song treatment with a deceptive sense of simplicity. Hearing Corigliano's music performed live (and performed well) is a powerful reminder that his music is even better than the high regard it has earned. Mr. Tambourine Man is a powerful work that easily belongs on a program focused upon powerful, politically charged music. Eighth Blackbird brought an amazing precision to this piece. The unison entrances between Lisa Kaplan on piano and Matthew Duvall on percussion were particularly impressive. Highlighting the incredible attention to detail throughout the performance.

Sandwiched between these political works with words was the expansively instrumental The Light Within by John Luther Adams. This was my first chance to experience this work as a non-performer. A remarkably different experience when the click track in the headphones is absent. Without that click, the passage of time takes on a different focus as the harmonic landscape shifts with an ecological sense of time. The changing qualities of light of a sunset translated into the frequency domain. A reminder that "powerful" isn't limited to human endeavors in a changing and fragile world. The electronic component of this performance was understated and only barely audible within the haze of sound.

This was a remarkably thoughtful, and well rehearsed program that builds enormous anticipation for the "powerLESS" program scheduled for February 5.

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