by Nick Stubblefield
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.