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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Present Music Hypnotizes with Spice Wave

Classical Review

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Cycles were the theme of "Spice Wave," Present Music's season finale. East met West with the Present Music ensemble interpreting the works of contemporary composers Philip Glass, Terry Riley and Michael Nyman. Adding to the mesmerizing, at times hypnotic effect of the summer night's music were guest artists Kala Ramnath on violin and tabla (hand drum) player Prithwiraj Bhattacharjee. Their soaring improvisations of Northern India's Hindustani music brought the evening full circle again and again.

The acoustics of Turner Hall Ballroom worked well for the artists and the rapt audience as Present Music pianist Phillip Bush set the tone with the opening from Glassworks, his controlled yet fluid playing gently accentuating the shifts in key within the repetitive cycles. William Helmers' sax solos on the Glass compositions Melodies Nos. 3, 10, 4 and 1 created its own call and response to the musical flow, keeping the cycle of sounds going and growing throughout.

Ramnath's mastery of the violin showed in both song cycles, the first a 20-minute excursion that underscored the vocal aspects of her playing, which at times sounded like chanting and singing. Based on rhythmic patterns called Taal and musical scales called Raga, the music developed slowly against a steady underlying hum, rhythmically building to crescendo after crescendo, all of it completely improvised. Ramnath and Bhattacharjee reinforced the call and response aspect of the night as one would keep time while the other took up the melody, changing back and forth, the two instruments becoming one within the classically based compositions.

The powerful climaxes of strings and drum brought out the full emotions of the music to a resounding and very satisfying effect.