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Harry Partch's Delusions of the Fury at Lincoln Center Festival

Harry Parch's Delusion of the Fury, Lincoln Center Festival, 7/23/15
Maverick American composer Harry Partch is revered in modern musical circles, but due to the difficulty of presenting his mammoth works on the unique instruments he created, his music is rarely experienced. In 2010, German instrument builder Thomas Meixner decided to spend three years replicating the sole remaining set of Partch's original instruments for the Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik, of which he is a member. 

Last week, Ensemble Musikfabrik brought their Partch instrumentarium to New York City Center, where the Lincoln Center Festival presented Partch's 1964 theater work Delusion of the Fury. It is impossible to separate the unique sound of Partch's music from the beautiful instruments on which it's made. They seem to be performers in their own right, keyed to a 43-tone scale of Partch's own creation. Most visibly striking were the elegant Cloud-Chamber Bowls, painted with the numerical value of their precise resonance. The most visceral sound came from the Marimba Eroica: its notes reverberated throughout the hall at such low frequencies that they were felt as much a heard.

Partch also wrote the libretto, choreographed dances, and made costumes for Delusion, but while everything had to be done his way, his music was neither overly esoteric, nor inaccessible. Indeed: Delusion is a primarily tonal work with a regular, driving rhythm.

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Sarah Plum Plays New Works at Spectrum

by Nick Stubblefield

Sarah Plum

Stepping into Spectrum in Lower Manhattan is like stepping into a modern-day composer's living room. CDs line one wall, books the other. There are plenty of comfy couches, and even a dedicated beer fridge. It's worth seeing a show there just to say that you have. 

Last week, violinist Sarah Plum stopped by Spectrum and performed a set of recent works, with a little aid from a pianist and a computer. Plum demonstrated her dedication to precise and thoughtful playing right from the get-go with Andrew List's "Suite for Solo Violin" (2001). It was atonal, sometimes jarring, but often thought-provoking. Intended as an homage to the Russian Futurism movement, it set a bleak musical tone for the evening. 

Sidney Corbett's "Archipel Chagall 1" (1998) and Christopher Adler's "Violin Concerto" (2014) each offered additional showcases for Ms. Plum's abilities. Extended techniques, harmonics, and occasional pizzicato were scattered throughout: it seemed that the notes that weren't played were almost as important as the ones that were. No ferocious Vivaldi-like violin runs here, but rather music that was a bit more contemplative and harder to chew. 

Pianist Francine Kay joined Plum for Bela Bartok's Piano Sonata No. 2. Unquestionably the highest point of energy in the program, the work builds beautifully from its folksy motifs into an explosion of heavy, strained violin riffs. The piece, completed in 1922, far pre-dates anything you might call rock music, but there were sections towards the end I was certain sounded like power chords from an electric guitar. 

The program ended with the highly entertaining "Il Prete Rosso" (2004) by Charles Nichols, with live recording and looping effects that played back through surround-sound speakers. The result was hypnotic and mesmerizing. 

Caramoor Summer Music Festival Kicks Off 70th Anniversary Season

by Robert Leeper

Peter Oundjian at the Venetian Theater
Peter Oundjian and The Orchestra of St. Luke's at the Venetian Theater

A standard orchestra program pairs a short piece by a contemporary composer with a large scale Romantic symphony. Often, the short piece is a dense tone poem or an academic exploration. But Christopher Theofanidis’s Making Up for Lost Time, which opened last Saturday's season-opening program at Caramoor, the bucolic Westchester estate, went for more pleasant summertime fare.

Theofanidis’s piece was the first of three world premieres this summer at Caramoor, which is celebrating their 70th anniversary season. Though not a virtuosic showpiece, there were impressive subtle rhythmic shifts and luminous passages performed by the Orchestra of St .Luke’s, who are themselves celebrating their 40th Anniversary season. Perhaps aware of his place on the program, Theofandis steered clear of epic themes and gestures. Instead, his piece looked inward, examining how time is perceived within a piece of music: how a listener hears it, and how that sense of time can be manipulated.

The work featured cascading arpeggios and a genial sparkle in the high hat, both of which become rhythmically displaced, leaving the audience pleasantly disoriented. This gave way to a pastoral second movement that seemed to draw heavily on the widely spaced chords and fiddle-inspired dance music of Aaron Copland. 

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Highline Chamber Ensemble at SubCulture

by Nick Stubblefield


Singer Karen Marie with the Highline Chamber Ensemble 

The Highline Chamber Ensemble, which typically performs in lofts, bars, and studios throughout NYC, played to a packed SubCulture on Tuesday with a dynamite show that crossed genres from tango, to musicals, to jazz standards. In the process, they made me throw away all of my preconceptions of what a chamber music concert is supposed to be. 

The group brands themselves a "conductorless orchestra," with a full string section, piano, and drum kit. They opened with a lush, jazzy mashup of the standard "Nature Boy" with RJD2's "A Beautiful Mine," better known as the noir-ish trip-hop theme from the TV show "Mad Men." It was a strikingly effective blend, both harmonically and in terms of mood. It was performed by Karen Marie, a powerful songstress with major stage presence and vocal qualities reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald. Marie also fronted the group for a lush arrangement of Billie Holiday's "Crazy He Calls Me." 

All of the ensemble members are classically-trained, which became apparent in Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires." The work, inspired by Vivaldi's Four Seasons, incorporates elements of the tango; the ensemble played with both great precision and furious energy. Violinists Bela Horvath and David Lisker alternated as featured soloists, each delivering confident and awe-inspiring performances. 

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