by Emre Tetik
Armen Elliot for The New York Times
For the third time this week, the International Contemporary Ensemble (a.k.a., ICE) appeared at the Park Avenue Armory's Board of Officers Room Thursday night with a program of recent and not-so-recent works. First up was Dai Fujikura's Minina (2013) for woodwind quartet and hammered dulcimer, a colorful ensemble inspired by the birth of the composer’s first child. With their lively body movements, the players themselves seemed to embody the character of a child. Claire Chase, ICE’s artistic director, opened with a broad bass flute solo evocative of traditional Japanese music, accompanied only by sparse, quiet tapping, creating an airy effect like wind rustling through trees.
What came next was more understated: in Alvin Lucier's Chambers (1968), soloist Phyllis Chen played a music box while other performers entered the room with a series of sound making devices (or “chambers”), then removed them until none were left. The result was a hypnotic cascade of sound, echoing throughout the room. Sitting in an aisle seat, it was magical to close my eyes and hear the performers walk past with their various devices, hearing them become more prominent before fading into the sea of other sounds.
The evening ended with a 2008 arrangement by Cliff Colnot of Olivier Messiaen’s song cycle Chants de terre et de ciel (1938). Soprano Ellie Dehn brought much warmth and compassion to the songs, whose lyrics express the composer’s love for his wife and son. Dehn also reveled in the music's spiritual dimension: I was in awe during the second song, “Antienne du silence,” when Dehn hit a series of rapturous high notes on the word “Alléluia” while the flute and clarinet played beautiful lines beneath her.
What tied these seemingly disparate pieces together was their exploration of timbre, color, and sound in relation to space. The Armory's Board of Officers Room turned out to be the ideal location: small and intimate enough to create a sense that nothing stands between you and the performers, yet spacious enough to give those sounds room to grow and envelop you.