Vernal, Sylvan, Southern

Dan Albertson

[May 2016.]

[Thanks, Eileen Chambers.]


Clara IANNOTTA: Intent on Resurrection – Spring or Some Such Thing (2014). Hans ABRAHAMSEN: Wald (2009). Christopher TRAPANI: Waterlines (2005/12)*. Tony Arnold (s)*, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cliff Colnot (cond.). Harris Theater, Chicago, IL, May 9, 2016.

The age of renewal is a potent reminder of life’s cycles. MusicNOW, of late the domain of the populist and vacuous, may yet have some hope. Even so, this evening reinforces certain problems with the series. Nota bene:

  1. Lengthy stage moves are not made more palatable by having composers hem-and-haw their way through drivel;
  2. Having a video screen on in the background at all times is a distraction;
  3. Recording an audio conversation from a cell phone and expecting anyone to understand it in a large hall boggles the mind;
  4. Fully two-thirds of the musicians are guests.

The music itself tackles nature directly or indirectly. Iannotta’s Intent on Resurrection – Spring or Some Such Thing, typical in sound of her last few years of output, is brittle and amorphous, music boxes on the surface recalling Aldo Clementi yet the background otherwise largely lifted from Lachenmann’s musique concrète instrumentale. Coughs from the audience seem here to contribute to the environs rather than disturb them in music sure enough not to project itself, but not so immodest as to withdraw entirely.

Abrahamsen’s Wald, referring in title and material to his wind quintet Walden from three decades earlier, is oddly schizophrenic, its faster moments owing a great debt to his teacher Ligeti and its central core containing the sort of quivering that has made him famous in the last decade. The performance is less than assured.

Waterlines is preposterous. I understand its appeal while being unable to stomach it myself. Trapani’s instrumental palette is imaginative enough, with harmonica, dulcimer, autoharp, cümbüş, and Stroh violin, plus recorded sounds in its fifth and final song, and deployed with admirable restraint, but the voice betrays the entire premise of the piece. The Carter Family and Bessie Smith are not Puccini and I am not sure why the inverse should be true. A classical soprano singing “I’ve got no sweet woman to drive my blues away” or “Now look-a-here Mister wild water, why do you treat me so doggone mean?” No thanks. The fact that I often am unable to hear Tony Arnold is perhaps a blessing.


[Why do people sing Dowland in contemporary formal regalia? Why do noses run and feet smell? W. M.]


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