Sunday, February 06, 2011

Flock of Blackbirds

Eighth Blackbird: PowerLESS @ Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chaconne from the Partita in D minor BWV 1004 by J.S. Bach
Arranged by Matt Albert for 19 players

Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich

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

Third Coast Percussion
Owen Clayton Condon: percussion
Robert Dillon: percussion
Peter Martin: percussion
David Skidmore: percussion

Meehan/Perkins Duo
Todd Meehan: percussion
Doug Perkins: percussion

Guest Artists
Sunshine Simmons: clarinets
Adam Marks: piano
Amy Briggs: piano
Amy Conn: soprano
Kirsten Hedegaard: soprano
Susan Nelson: soprano
Nina Heebink: mezzo soprano

Eighth Blackbird turned to a steady-state, sequential performance of Bach's Chaconne leading into Steve Reich's monumental Music for 18 Musicians without a pause in between for the "PowerLESS" side of the concert pair of PowerFUL/LESS. "Powerless" in the sense of a music that isn't about anything outside of the music itself. Music as abstraction. In the case of Music for 18 Musicians, a music that operates within its own sonic universe. A piece utterly contained within its mesmerizing continuity and gradual harmonic transitions.

The performance was a knock out. Tight and well rehearsed. With subtle lighting changes that allowed the visual spectacle of the four Steinway grand pianos, four marimbas, vibraphone, vocalists and instrumentalists against the black brick wall of the stage to shimmer against the steady metric pulse. The redundancy of doubled parts and phasing sequences added another dimension of obscuring the relationship between the actions perceived visually and aurally. Each member of the 18 musicians becoming sublimated into a looming sonic tapestry. It's a work of intricate choreography as percussionists move around (occasionally featuring sequences of three percussionists playing a single marimba or two pianists playing on two of the four pianos) and vocalists realizing the swelling crescendo/decrescendo by sweeping the microphone across the space in front of their mouths. There are many reasons why this pleasantly pulsating, tonal work will continue to endure as an enthralling minimalist work.

The decision to tack on the Bach arrangement as a prelude was an interesting one. The setting oscillated between feeling thin as the solo material was stretched out between so many players to moments of lush harmonic development. Juxtaposing the similarities and contrast between the Baroque and Minimalist aesthetics. The mechanized rhythmic qualities and tonal progressions fitting neatly side by side while the Chaccone clearly favored a melodic focal point over Music for 18 Musicians sense of rhythmic phasing. Ultimately, the Bach piece dissolved quickly as the powerful haze of Reich rolled in.

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