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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Present Music Explores The Wherehouse

Classical Review

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Present Music has explored more performing venues than any other classical group in town. Last Friday evening two performances took place at a nightclub, The Wherehouse, in the harbor area, at the end of National Avenue. Though unlikely, the space is a favorable one. The rectangular room with a very high ceiling and wooden floor (typically for dancing) rendered surprisingly good sound.

The featured composer/performer was Du Yun (b. 1977), who was born and raised in Shanghai, China, but now works in the United States. She is part of a new trend of composing and performing with laptop as a central instrument. Her Air Glow featured an ensemble of instruments in aleatoric episodes over a bed of vague electronic sound. In most ways it reminded a listener of the “chance music” of the avant-garde of the 1950s and ’60s.

Other works by Du Yun included Dream-Bend and Miranda, with the composer singing a dense and cryptic poem. I came away thinking that though she achieves unconventional expression, it does not go far enough. We have experienced so much in the concert hall that it takes more extreme composition and performance to create a sense of edgy avant-garde these days.

Clarinetist William Helmers delivered a pleasing and technically impressive performance of Steve Reich’s bubbly, good-natured New York Counterpoint, played with a recording of clarinets and employing the subtly changing syncopation of classic minimalism. Three movements for string quartet by Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of the famous Russian composer Sergei) had promising substance and energy.

Two dance pieces rounded out the program. A tastelessly schmaltzy arrangement by Nathan Wesselowski of Caldara’s 18th-century song “Sebben, crudele” (badly recorded on an out-of-tune piano) served as score for a bland dance by choreographer/dancer Kelly Anderson. Love’s Fodder has choreography by Luc Vanier and music by Christopher Burns. It is not so strong as a composition, either musically or choreographically, but was saved by its two dancers, Steven Moses and Jaimi Patterson. Wearing black underwear, the two found interesting, if disconnected, intricate duo poses.

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