Last Wednesday night Deerhoof and new-music group Ensemble Dal Niente came together for a concert at Merkin Hall as part of the third annual Ecstatic Music Festival, providing an example of the festival’s curatorial skill in fostering unique collaboration among forward-thinking artists from both classical and non-classical traditions.
With a program featuring the Brazilian-born composer Marcos Balter as prominently as the critical-darling rock quartet, the concert opened on an intimate note with Balter’s Wicker Park, a work for solo sax that, through extended technique, writhes and respires to great effect.
Following Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles, for soprano, violin, and cello, all of Ensemble Dal Niente’s members took the stage for Deerhoof Chamber Variations, a piece by Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, which uses Deerhoof songs as base material. Lithe and mercurial, the piece bounced between vignettes that included the jagged-edged figures of math rock, Dadaist vocal passages, supple instrumental melodies, and, overall, a particularly keen use of texture and color.
The work was met with an enthusiastic reception by the audience, a few of whom, in earshot, pointed out Saunier’s classical training as the backbone of the piece’s success. (Saunier studied at Oberlin in the early '90s.) However, while Saunier’s classical background certainly bubbled to the surface, the work owes just as much to his DIY ethic and unabashed spirit of experimentation.