Chicago Classical Review »» From Shapey to bubble wrap and music to Chicago neighborhoods, the Ear Taxi Festival hits its eclectic pace
By Lawrence A. Johnson
Day three of the Ear Taxi Festival’s Mainstage series brought the party of new mobile music to Hyde Park and the University of Chicago.
The Saturday afternoon sessions featured a plethora of eclectic and extremely varied settings, ranging from experimental sound installations to near-performance art and traditional chamber events. For six hours it was striking how many excellent works were heard – a high batting average for any new music festival – and nearly all of them were written by Chicago-based composers and premiered in the world.
More broadly, all the concerts had an open and genuinely inclusive atmosphere. This friendly spirit is the very essence of this kind of event, far from the austere and guilty spirit of festival co-director Michael Lewanski. manifesto on the festival site. (Among other things, he states that the American classical music industry “is one of the most imperialist and oppressive areas of contemporary culture.”)
Fortunately, the live performances embodied a more welcoming and upbeat atmosphere centered around the music at hand. Some events went more successfully than others, but all of Saturday’s performers carried out their duties with extraordinary commitment and dedication. Almost all of the events took place at the Logan Center Penthouse.
No event has captured the best that this kind of festival can offer more than the ambitious program of Gaudete Brass. In 45 rich and musically charged minutes, the brass quintet presented seven world premieres, all by Chicago composers and all inspired by a different part of the city.
Finely Crafted Amos Gillespie’s People in the park (Rogers Park) has gone from a majestic neo-baroque ceremonial air to an Allegro floating like a step. that of Eric Malmquist Line borders (West Ridge) came up with an easy student piece with thrilling lines and jerky accents turning into an affirming trumpet fanfare.
Devin Clara Fanslow Fawn (Andersonville) cleverly goes from antiphonic fanfares to jerky rhythms and an offbeat Allegro. at Ronnie Kuller LaBagh Wood (Albany Park) offered a beautifully contrasted antique waltz with a dark sub-theme. Heidi joosten Waterside (Edgewater) mixed widely spaced electronic waves, a casual gallop theme, and an arrhythmic stomp. Regina Harris Baiocchi’s Pastiche (Brownsville) skillfully blended edgy driving and nostalgic lyricism.
The most impressive object was that of Ephraim Champion South Shore. Champion was born and raised in this South Side neighborhood and has created strongly individual and compelling work. The music begins with a lovely lyrical trumpet theme with a hint of blues, and the tempo picks up as fast-paced riffs are played between the musicians. A motor and syncopated theme leads to an elegiac passage; all sections resume, while the work ends in a calm and touching coda. We can’t wait to learn more about this talented young composer.
Gaudete Brass’s performances were not technically flawless but managed to capture the unique voice of each composer. Congratulations to Bill Baxtresser and Charles Russell Roberts, trumpets; Natalie Douglass, horn (alternate); Paul Von Hoff, trombone; and Scott Tegge, tubist.
While almost all of the day’s events centered around new music, the Avondale Trio set perfectly bridged Hyde Park’s past and present. Hosted by composer Ilya Levinson, the program featured Piano Trio No. 1 by Ralph Shapey, a longtime UC flagship of new music and Levinson’s teacher. Completed and premiered in 1955, this is not only the work’s Chicago premiere, but appears to be only its second performance, 66 years after its San Francisco debut.
The 20-minute piece is quite characteristic of Shapey’s aggressive style that baffled fellow academics and baffled listeners in the 1950s and 1960s. His uncompromising modernity, even now, can pack a punch – and thorny rhythms. , the crashing chords, squeaky dissonances and sheer density of the writing move forward relentlessly with barely the slightest slack throughout the four movements. Violinist Kenichi Kiyama, cellist Kelsee Vandevall and pianist Shi-An Costello not only deserve credit for their playing, their daringly planned performance, but also for the time and patience spent in making corrections to the score in order to present this local premiere.
From the rest of Avondale’s set, that of Tim Edwards The conjecture mixes contemplative music with a strongly accentuated bite without losing an essential friendliness. Levinson’s movement “Branches” from his The polyphony of trees offers a beautiful lyrical ode shaded by melancholy which later becomes more pensive and somber. Both were sensitively performed by the Avondale Trio, Levinson’s piece luckily complemented by branch-shaped lighting.
Patricia Morehead paid a personal tribute to another former University of Chicago faculty member with her Sounds and sighs for John. Inspired by his UC teacher John Eaton, the mix of Morehead’s live oboe and populist music on electronic media was not entirely consistent, but there was no doubt about the sincerity of his heartfelt tribute. .
Three of the events inhabited a space closer to performance art than musical performance. Only one worked, but this event was a highlight of the afternoon.
Shanna Pranaitis gave the world premiere of Jay Alan Yim The rope dancer is accompanied by her shadows. Inspired by Man Ray’s 1916 painting of the same title, Yim’s piece blends a live bass flute performance into a sculptural sound installation. The flautist plays a noted score but there is a lot of room for improvisation; Using ten resonant tubes, the accompanying electronics provide an ever-changing sound foundation for the soloist.
With a packed house, the tight spaces at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry – a converted garage next to the Logan Center – did not allow listeners to wander the space as advertised.
Despite this, the musicality of Pranaitis elevated the performance of a simple, disparate collection of live and electronic sound effects. Playing almost non-stop for 25 minutes, Pranaitis’ performance, enhanced by trendy clouds, waves, whirlpools and eddies, was mesmerizing.
The world premiere of Very high by Zachary Good and Tonia Ko, which could also have been called Adventures in bubble wrap. Anytime you walk into a dark room and the performers are placed on high platforms wrapped in plastic bubble wrap, you know the session will be long. Good deep underground notes played on an amplified clarinet, bass clarinet and recorder as Ko rubbed, scratched and cut the plastic wrap, the sounds converted into amplified electronic sound effects. Later, they both silently dropped styrofoam packaging shavings onto the floor as a heavily amplified set of dropped objects played over the speakers. For a grand finale, the two donned masks and walked up the aisle, popping their bubble wrap as audience members did the same with the wrapping paper placed on each chair – a comment perhaps unintentional on collective immunity. Or something.
The only outright turkey came from Tri-Again. Comprising oboe, trombone and piano, the trio’s series of short comic vignettes consisted of silently standing in a circle around oboe and trombone, upside down bands, mock Devo-like announcements, and silly headlines (“Oh my God, there is a centipede â), etc. The band were clearly looking for Dadaist absurdity but the net result was painfully no fun and the half hour set seemed endless.
The crowning glory for Saturday was to be the evening performance of the Wet Ink Ensemble, a co-presentation between Ear Taxi Festival, UC’s Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition (CCCC) and the 2021 season premiere event- 22 from UCicago Presents.
The New York-based mixed ensemble (flute, saxophone, percussion, piano, violin, cello, electronics and vocals) delivered a powerful virtuosity that was at times almost intimidating. Unfortunately, the four new works on the program offered decidedly mixed rewards.
The first was that of Ben Lamar Gay Better known. Always on. The composer-cornetist joined the members of Wet Ink in a work that served up cornet growls, violin strands, and an assortment of loud solos. The competing instrumental lines of the moment the worlds collide inevitably become a prolonged cacophony inducing tinnitus. While there were moments of downtime – most notably pianist Eric Wubbels’ incredibly fast jazz piano solo – Gay’s 25-minute job took far too long for its slender virtues.
Suburb by Maria Kaoutzani was heard in world premiere. Hard percussion strikes alternate with a gently swaying violin solo, as the composer works a fast, syncopated section to a hymn-like theme in a confident manner.
The other world premiere was by Ted Moore, aptly titled gaps. A serpentine flute solo transforms into elliptical lines and gasping flute noises. (Do composers ever get tired of this overused device?). Electronic scribbles and fragmented violin phrases lead to a more aggressive cacophony. Moore’s work is ultimately another exercise in sound and fury that doesn’t mean so much.
So many ways by ensemble saxophonist Alex Mincek started off more convincingly. Prepared and widely spaced piano notes lead to sweet flute and saxophone notes. Singing an unidentified text, Kate Soper’s soprano is used as another instrumental color rather than a front soloist, but her pure, soothing voice, even in her patented sprechtimme, sounded like a dazzling blessing compared to the sound onslaught. previous works. Unfortunately, Mincek’s work also seems to lose track in the second half as the tempo picks up and volume increases. It is also quite possible that after eight hours of careful listening, the ears will inevitably tire out a bit.
Yet the polite and volatile bravery of Wet Ink’s musicians has never been in doubt, and one looks forward to a future visit with music that will show off their intimidating skills to greater effect.
The Ear Taxi festival continues until Monday. Eartaxifestival.com.
Upcoming UChicago Presents event is Susan Graham and Music from Copland House 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mandel Hall. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu
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