The outer fringes connect



Ensemble Music Society

Indiana History Center

Nov. 28

Well, this ain’t “Home on the Range” was my first thought as six bright, very talented young musicians began their Ensemble Music Society-sponsored concert/presentation last Wednesday. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra already had done one music/visual arts fusion this season. But their performers did not step to the outer fringes of the galaxy as did these six, who call themselves eighth blackbird, named after the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” None of those in the well-packed Indiana History Center Basile Theater knew quite what to expect from a performing group with no caps in their name.

What they got were only four pieces, all recently composed. These 30ish six delivered them with peerless performer polish, pizzazz, a pittance of parody and prime-rated playing. Like the Kronos Quartet before them and the current Red Priest of London with early music, this is a group that makes new music more enticing by adding a bit of show biz to the dogmatic formalism that has engulfed the concert-going ritual throughout the 20th century, an environment in which the classical standards best survive. Plus, they selected sufficiently captivating music to make the evening a memorable experience — one finally producing an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Pianist Lisa Kaplan, flutist Tim Munro, clarinetist Michael J. Maccaferri, violinist Matt Albert, cellist Nicholas Photinos and percussionist Matthew Duvall first appeared with Pocket Symphony (2000) by Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938) — the most interesting piece on the program. Novel percussion sounds intermixed with flashes of standard harmonies and piquant harmonic transitions — and silences — all traded among the players as they moved about, Maccaferri even scraping his clarinet’s bell across the floor.

Three of these players began the program with Musique de Tables (1987) by Thierry de Mey (b. 1956). Each was seated at a small table underneath what appeared to be his/her own canister-shaped sound enhancer. For 10 minutes they simultaneously emulated a jazz-drum solo with fists, fingertips, knuckles and nails pounding the table surfaces. Like every timbre in the other three pieces, these sounds filled the hall with precision and finesse — in this case rhythmic.

Though the visual element contributed to a degree throughout the evening — eighth blackbird recordings should be DVDs and not CDs — it was most prominent in the finale: Mirrors (2007) by Tamar Muskal (b.1965). Cast in three sections, it featured real-time distorted images of two varying players projected on the screen, the distortions weaving in and out with something of a cadence. (They were not mirror images, by the way.) Not being a visual arts type, I had trouble deciphering the “meaning” implied here.

Julianna Thibodeaux, where were you when I needed you??




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