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Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013

Subtle, Contemporary, Intimate

Present Music explores new venues

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On Saturday Present Music explored yet another unprecedented venue in the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Bayside. A previous performance took place at a private East Side home, and the same program is planned for Saturday, Feb. 23 at The Hamilton cocktail lounge.

The common thread for these three venues is intimacy, appropriate for a program of chamber music. All Present Music concerts are chamber music, of course, but this one was of a decidedly different aesthetic: a traditional recital of subtle, contemporary works for a small number of players in combination, requiring careful listening. There was none of the music-with-attitude/hipster/showy edge of a typical Present Music concert. There was also no amplification—a welcome change to my ears.

The Schlitz Audubon exhibit hall is not an ambient space, but the sound was certainly clear. Eric Segnitz showed yet again his deep talents for idiomatic string arranging in a string quartet adaptation of Ben Johnston’s O Waly Waly Variations, originally for saxophone quartet. Static, shimmering sound gradually increased intensity in Andrew Norman’s “Sabina” movement for string trio, from The Companion Guide to Rome (composed in 2010). William Helmers, playing with captivating panache, joined the string players for soulful Jewish music that morphed into heated klezmer in two movements from Osvaldo Golijov’s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind (composed in 1994).

Piano was added after intermission, first in Timothy Andres’ thoughtful I Found It By the Sea (2007), with its striking effect of large, loud chords in the piano answered by quiet high string harmonics. Ted Hearne’s Vessels (2008), the most abstract of the otherwise listener-friendly music on the concert, featured combinations of unconventional sounds from the violin, viola and piano. Nico Muhly’s Motion (2009) was a wild ride of nervous, rhythmic energy, driving to its punched-up finish.

The musicians (mostly from Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra) played admirably, as is always the case at Present Music. Besides the aforementioned Helmers, they included Eric Segnitz on violin, Margot Schwartz on violin and viola, Erin Pipal on viola, Adrien Zitoun on cello, and Michael Mizrahi on piano.