Worlds collide and a quiet gem stands out at Here and Now Festival
There’s a variety show going on at Bargemusic over the Labor Day weekend, under the title and guise of the Here and Now Festival. More so than even the standard grab-bag classical program, the festival presented a disorienting mix of styles, ideas, and quality.
The eight pieces from eight different composers heard Wednesday night covered not only the classical tradition but world music and popular genres as well—a variety show with a travelogue. Two of the stops, seemingly coincidentally, were in Japan: James Nyoraku Schlefer opened the evening with the world premiere of his 2Blue for shakuhachi and viola, and after intermission, Duo Yumeno played Daron Hagen’s Cantabile. The disparities between the two pieces, and the two performances, was a microcosm of the concert.
Schlefer described his work as a combination of two things he loves, traditional shakuhachi music and the blues. They are not so far apart; there are common features in the scales around which both musics are based, and a sense of space and breathing after each line or phrase is essential to each. Schlefer is a fine shakuhachi player as shown in his performance with violist Eva Gerard, and there’s no abstract reason his piece could not work. But it was too formally flighty to make a coherent or extended statement. Ideas weren’t satisfactorily established or explored. The silent spaces in the music were well-judged and refreshing, but many of those were ruined by audience members’ ringing mobile phones.
Cantabile could not have been more different. Played with precision and deep feeling by the duo—cellist Hikaru Tamaki and koto player Yoko Reikano Kimura—the piece was a gripping, gorgeous narrative of the life of a woman in 12th-century Japan. Full of idiomatic flavor, it made compelling use of the techniques of the Western classical tradition, especially polyphony and formal design. Most impressive was how the music told a clear, succinct, and unsentimental story using vocal sounds without texts.
Fred Rzewski’s Rising, played by Ursula Oppens in its American premiere, was new classical music with Irish roots. Written for the centenary of the Easter Rebellion, Rising is one of Rzewski’s variations pieces, this one based on the folk song “The Foggy, Foggy Dew.” Compact and dense, the music explodes with invention. Through Rzewski, Oppens simultaneously disassembled the theme and subsumed it under a torrent of ideas, each leading logically to the next. The composer’s current, late style seems that of a man enjoying a mad rush to say everything that might be left, until the modest repose of the final cadence.
After Rising, the concert turned towards the Caribbean, with Gregor Huebner playing his own Yoruban Fantasie for solo violin with loop pedals and other effects. After a grand prelude built over a drone, Huebner set up various riffs and improvised over them. His playing was fluid, exciting, even dazzling, and idiomatic, but like the concert opener he moved from one form—in this case rhythm and chords—to another so promiscuously that he left a feeling of inattention to each.
The pieces established, then reinforced, a clear divide between composer’s music, created out of the classical tradition, and musician’s music, written as a platform for their performances and created primarily out of non-classical traditions.
Continuing the classical side, there was Paul Frucht’s Reckoning, premiered by cellist Julian Schwarz and pianist Marika Bournaki. A soulful interior argument and lament, Reckoning was romantic and expressionistic, written with knowledge of the instruments, and the intense performance carried substantial and satisfying emotional power.
On the musicians side, there was bass trombonist David Taylor’s Concertino No. 2, with Taylor accompanied by pianist Ron Stabinsky, bassist Matthew “Moppa” Elliot, and percussionist Kevin Shea. The form was classical, with four recognizably standard movements. The style was not, though it was a fascinating hybrid of older jazz ideas heard through a prism of modernism, a more successful version of Stan Kenton’s experiments in modern composition. There were serendipities, like a fractured tribute to Tommy Dorsey and a ballad in the form of a waltz, and Taylor played with a strong, beautiful sound.
Then there was the performance by the young pianist who calls himself W.T.F. Bach, triangulated between Victor Borge and Professor Irwin Corey. W.T.F. played David Shohl’s WTF Goldberg Canons, then presented his own audio piece Dash Underscore Dash. The conceit of each is that they were somehow developed from J.S. Bach’s Puzzle Canons, themselves built on the bass line from the opening Aria of the Goldberg Variations.
For two manuals (piano and a synthesizer using a clavichord patch), Shohl’s fragments were at times intriguing, at others just puzzling. W.T.F. Bach’s playing varied in clarity, whether from nerves or the composing.
The pianist’s own piece was something Spike Jones might have sketched out with a sampler and a sequencer. His performance consisted of singing his own psychedelic lyrics along with the audio and a few dance steps. While his voice tired, his dancing grew more confident. As W.T.F. left the stage, the obvious question hung in the cool air.
The Here and Now Labor Day Festival continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sunday. Bargemusic.org.