Curating concerts is all about framing pieces and performers in a way that gives the whole evening a sense of continuity. In the new-music world, this can often prove easier said than done, but Ear Heart Music’s Tuesday night concert at Roulette decided to spin a curatorial narrative around music’s connection to visual art, and to great effect.
This was immediately felt during the short yet rewarding opening set by Trio Kavak. The trio, featuring Ear Heart's director Amelia Lukas on flute, Nathan Schram on viola, and Kathryn Andrews on harp, was joined onstage by Kevork Mourad, a visual artist who contributed idiosyncratic, spontaneous paintings. While the trio performed each piece, Mourad would paint abstractly and then digitally manipulate the work, always in a way that was integral to the piece of music.
Trio Kavak’s set was similarly enjoyable from a purely aural standpoint. Understated and shedding non-essential stage swagger, the trio’s program consisted of three little gems, each demonstrating excellent technique and interpretation.
Their set opened with Angélica Negrón’s Drawings for Meyoko, a short tonal piece with pointillistic pinpricks that bounced between the musicians playfully. Andrew Struck-Marcell's A Lily of a Day worked particularly well with Mourad’s improvised painting: the slow-developing, ruminative composition mirrored Mourad's increasingly complex painting, together producing a fine languor at the conclusion. Rounding out the set was Fang Man’s Larkspur, a New York City premiere. The piece tested the instruments' extended technique, especially Lukas' flute, demanding a bit more from the audience at just the right time.
While the Claremont Trio does perform new music regularly, the celebrated piano trio usually pairs contemporary works with classical repertoire. Opening with Donald Crockett’s Night Scenes, Crockett explained that each of the four movements were inspired by a different painting, all of which were projected above the stage: Miró’s Catalan Landscape & The Hunter, Picasso’s Blue Guitar, Kungl’s Midnight Zephyr, and Hopper’s Nighthawks. I heard a distinct American voice in Crockett's music, with a fondness for sonic expanse and melodic directness similar to Copland, but with an additional half century of musical development to draw upon.
Gabriela Lena Frank's Folk Songs for Piano Trio took inspiration from Peruvian folk music without teetering over into exoticism. The work consisted of four movements of varying temperament, with Julia Bruskin in particular doing a fine job of extracting as much pathos from her cello as humanly possible.
Helen Grime's Three Whistler Miniatures was accompanied by three small pastels by James Whistler: The Little Note in Yellow and Gold, Lapis Lazuli, and The Violet Note. And, Sean Shepherd's dynamic Trio was inspired by Renzo Piano's dramatic new performance hall at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
Overall, this was another home run program for Ear Heart Music. Its focus on the visual arts provided a compelling narrative, without diluting or dumbing down the musical content. If anything, it gave the experience of listening to chamber music—so often a pedestrian, formal exercise—a fresh coat of paint.
More pics on the photo page.