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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011

Present Music's Daring 'Water' Concert

From the Milwaukee River to Uihlein Hall

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Present Music (PM) celebrated its 30th anniversary last Saturday evening in a daring and big way: a free concert at Uihlein Hall, in collaboration with other local groups, preceded by the audience gathering at the Milwaukee River. It was a marketing and logistical feat to pull this off, and especially challenging to stage a large classical event during the summer. Judging from the capacity audience, the ambitious plan was a success.

Certainly worth celebrating is the consistent high standard of the PM ensemble of musicians, one of the most reliable and accomplished treasures of the Milwaukee arts scene. Expanded to 19 players for this concert, it gave a taste of what a top-flight contemporary chamber orchestra sounds like.

The theme was one of the most important topics globally and locally: water. Film and slides addressing aspects of water, both factually and poetically, appeared with most concert selections. American composer David Lang (b. 1957) was featured, with a “Water” suite of four pieces, three of which were performed with chorus. Lang combines simple material in kaleidoscopic ways and creates intriguing evolution. Danceworks provided added choreography. Lang was again heard in the surprisingly soulful Give Me for male ensemble.

Sea Tropes
by Ingram Marshall (b. 1942), an evocative showpiece for the ensemble, is composed for chamber orchestra with a tape of breaking waves. Kamran Ince's Still, Flow, Surge, for voices and ensemble, was premiered. About the mystery of large bodies of water, it included the invented instruments of the chorus playing small stones in a jar mixed with a spoon, and an amplified “water player,” who sensually dipped his hands through the liquid. Abandoning his customary style of Middle Eastern-flavored content, Ince's new piece is among his most innovative works.

The concert was thoroughly interesting throughout, and certainly accomplished its aim to invite contemplation of water, one of the precious necessities of life. The finale was a fun concoction by PM Artistic Director Kevin Stalheim, with four choruses around the hall singing disparate songs about water. I laughed out loud when the ensemble started playing a movement from Handel's Water Music