This past Saturday evening Present Music added Turner Hall to its list of previously unexplored concert venues. The stage, space and acoustics are inviting. With needed refurbishing Turner Hall could become a jewel for classical performances.
The program was an eclectic mix. The substantial entry was John Adams' Son of Chamber Symphony (2007), a follow-up to his Chamber Symphony of 1992, performed by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra last season. The sequel is a challenging three-movement work, perhaps not as dense and fiendishly difficult to play as the original, but a feat nonetheless. The musicians of Present Music have always been its strongest suit. Hearing the 15-member ensemble without amplification showed its considerable potential as a contemporary chamber orchestra.
Stravinsky's Ragtime (1918) for 11 players is brief and playful in its artful interpretation of the American popular genre, but is not a slight nothing. The performance could have had a little more shading, but was vigorous and lively. Sofia Gubaidulina's Witty Waltzing is a charming arrangement and deconstruction of Johann Strauss' Tales from the Vienna Woods, presented with three dancers who went from lighthearted steps to chimplike mugging.
Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin's Charleston Noir is not the kind of driving, impossible, tour-de-force piano showpiece we usually hear from Phillip Bush. It is more rooted in traditional piano writing, something a mere keyboard mortal without Bush's remarkable talents might tackle. The inchoate choreography for six dancers tried for tongue-in-cheek at times, a quality not really found in this dark and rather paranoid music. The evening kicked off and ended with novelty numbers. Keeping Time in a Bottle by Caroline Mallonee is for three bottle players (or blowers) with a recording of blown bottle sounds. The somber tone of the music seemed rather out of step with the fun of the idea. It was still entertaining. Hee Haw by Randall Woolf became a throw-in-the-kitchen-sink circus, with dancers in square-dance garb plus some elements that didn't seem to match the theme: boy acrobats and fencing pairs. It didn't really make much sense, but was a goofy good time anyway.