sandbox percussion

Spontaneous Combustion reviews 1: from hub to sandbox

Two extraordinary young East Coast new music quartets light up the new music festival's first edition

Editor’s note: ArtsWatch deployed a small squadron of reviewers to most of the Spontaneous Combustion Festival’s seven programs spread over 17 concerts in three cities. Here are some of the highlights of the first edition of this valuable new addition to Oregon’s music scene. Read part two here.

Sandbox Percussion started their concert in January’s Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival with a bit of theatricality, the four percussionists emerging singly from backstage, each in turn adding his phasing rhythmic patterns to the ligneous melee of Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood — performed, quite appropriately, on actual slabs of wood (rather than the usual tuned claves). The thing about a piece like this is that if you can just rip through it accurately, that’s really good enough to sell it for most listeners. Reich’s intentionally transparent, semi-automatic compositional process carries the work, and the sheer athleticism required to perform it is impressive enough that matters of interpretation are almost unnecessary.

But no, just as Sandbox insisted on using authentic instruments (can we call this a Historically Informed Performance?), these four decided to be insanely, obsessively precise down to the last little detail, executing unbelievably smooth level changes and cross-fades like a four-man mixing board. Their rhythmic intonation, so to speak, would make the whole city vibrate if a choir were doing it.

Sandbox Percussion performed in Portland’s Spontaneous Combustion Festival of New Music.

And yet within this strictness was a great deal of expressivity, even individual freedom (much like that imaginary choir we mentioned, which may as well be Hilliard Ensemble since that’s who we’re all imagining anyways). In Sandbox’s subtle, dynamic blend, “soloists” could pop out of the texture just with a shift in their posture; the Old Church’s sensitive acoustics are more than capable of picking up such tiny cues and broadcasting them all over the room, and the concentrated awe on the players faces told me they knew this perfectly well. These little solos, never obtrusive and always musical, made living music out of simple patterns and four planks. And that was just the opener.

It ended up being a whole evening of this sort of thing, uncommonly intimate percussion playing like we heard in this same venue nearly two years ago. It became clear that these four spend a lot of time working together and basking in the “simple joy of playing together.”

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: still burning

Spontaneous Combustion festival continues to light a fire under the West Coast's new music scene

The Oregon portion of the valuable new Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival isn’t even half over and already it’s produced a pair of the finest contemporary classical concerts in recent memory: a spectacular performance of music by Gyorgy Ligeti and one-time Oregonians Lou Harrison and Benjamin Krause by Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet, and a sublime and varied solo recital by Boston flutist Orlando Cela that revealed some gems by young, lesser known composers (a welcome hallmark of the festival so far) as well as Astor Piazzolla and others. Oregon rarely gets performances by rising young national performers who play this music full time, with adequate rehearsal.

One of the most exciting recent additions to Oregon’s new music scene, the festival continues through Feb. 2 with major new music performers including daring New York cellist Ashley Bathgate and City of Tomorrow wind quintet. Tonight (Wednesday) at Portland’s Classic Pianos, 3003 SE Milwaukie Ave., New York’s Iktus Duo plays flute and percussion music by Oregon’s Lou Harrison and less well known composers including Joseph Pereira, Adam Vidiksis, James Romig, Bruce Hamilton and more.

On Friday, at The Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave., New York’s Sandbox Percussion (which has premiered many new compositions, performed at prestigious festivals, collaborated with LA’s visionary The Industry opera company, and includes young percussion phenom Ian Rosenbaum, who so impressed Chamber Music Northwest audiences with his sensational performances of electrifying music by the fabulous rising young composer Andy Akiho) plays his music, works by American composing eminence Steve Reich and more.

The Delgani Quartet reprises the most dazzling of the pieces they played so brilliantly in Portland in their hometown at United Lutheran Church, 2230 Washington St. on Sunday afternoon January 28 and Tuesday night January 30. The great late 20th century avant garde composer Georgy Ligeti’s Métamorphoses Nocturnes takes off from where his countryman Bartok’s magnificent masterpieces left off — but turns into an impish, kaleidoscopic carnival ride (complete with drunken waltz) that had the Portland audience both chuckling and cheering. The other quartet on the program, Beethoven’s op. 131 from 1826, was considered as avant garde in his time as was Ligeti’s at its birth in 1954. It’s now deservedly regarded as one of the greatest compositions ever written, and one of Beethoven’s own personal favorites.

Isata Kanneh-Mason performs Friday and Saturday in Portland Piano International’s Rising Star series.

New music by an Oregon composer — and one of Portland’s most valuable musicians, pianist/ composer/ educator Darrell Grant, tops the program at Isata Kanneh-Mason’s recital Friday at Friday, Jan 26: 7:00pm at Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd. and Saturday at Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St. Grant’s Darker Angels: Reflections on Hiawatha, (commissioned through Portland Piano International’s admirable Rising Star program that pairs new music by Oregonians with emerging young piano talents) draws on source material from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 24 Negro Melodies, which in turn was based on Negro spirituals, West African folk themes, and the composer’s own encounters with W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Appropriately, the multiple-prize- winning 21 year old British prodigy, part of a distinguished family of acclaimed young musicians, also plays music by that late-19th century fellow Afro-British musician, as well as Prokofiev’s short, early third sonata, Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata and Ravel stately, melancholy Pavane for a Dead Princess.

Amplified Repertory Chamber Orchestra of Portland has galvanized Portland’s classical music scene by using well-designed sound amplification and state-of-the-art lighting effects to enhance its performances of classical music in ways most other concert goers have come to expect. Their performances Friday at Eugene’s Whirled Pies and Saturday at Portland’s Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., ArcoPDX unveil a couple of firsts for the band: vocals and classically enhanced arrangements of non-classical works, three songs by Depeche Mode, the ‘80s synth lords whose music ruled dance clubs and eventually stadiums, and whose recent tour was one of the biggest of the year. The shows also include dark classics by J.S. Bach, Dmitri Shostakovich, Arvo Part and more.

Continues…