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Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013

Classical Season Openers

Present Music and Early Music Now

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Present Music
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Present Music created a remarkable audience experience last Saturday afternoon with John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit for 99 percussionists. The Lynden Sculpture Garden was the inspired site for this environmental music.

Musicians began in an assembled group. One by one, a player blew into either a large paper cone or conch shell, creating subtle rushes of air. Whirring sounds of high harmonics came from spun plastic tubes. Gradually rattles were added to the sound texture. Upon beginning to play a performer ceremoniously left the circle, fanning out to individual, scattered locations in the large garden.

Inuksuit (an Inuit word for a stone marker on the tundra) is by design different in any performance environment.

The music is in a few large sections, the soundscape gradually evolving, variously introducing long blown notes from a shell, drumming, cymbals, sirens, chimes, metallic drums, gongs, triangles, glockenspiels. It gains volume and density, eventually ending ethereally, with birdsongs added by distant piccolos and high pitched mallets.

Players were spaced quite far apart, each standing silently until the next musical entrance, which often seemed a lonely answer to a distant colleague. Most of the few hundred audience members wandered around the garden during the 75-80 minute piece.

It was mysteriously moving to see the dignity each performer brought to what felt like a kind of undefined tribal ritual. Assembling 99 players, a mix of professionals from several states and students, was an extraordinary accomplishment. Each seemed to want to be there just to take part in something rare and magical.

Later that same evening Early Music Now kicked off its season at Wisconsin Lutheran College with a lovely, sophisticated program of Viennese music of the 18th and early 19th centuries featuring clarinet and its predecessor, the chalumeau. Eric Hoeprich played instruments both historical (including basset horn) and reconstructed based on early clarinet models, and was joined by Byron Schenkman on harpsichord and fortepiano, and soprano Clara Rottsolk. Works by Louis Spohr, Beethoven, Weber, Haydn and Schubert were performed with insightful clarity and grace, making me glad to be in a concert hall again after the summer break.