Do you ever silently, in a moment of pre-composition, mix up the words caveat and cadenza? I do it constantly, and I guess I must make a lot of caveats because I'm developing and absolute complex about it. Well, if I offer you cadenzas or even credenzas, I guess now you'll know just what I'm talking about, even if you also think I'm an oaf.
I went to see Alarm Will Sound at the Miller Theater Friday doing their "If it ain't Varese, it ain't in there" show. But why, you will ask in a hopefully not too skeptical voice, would you go and do that, Maury, you who are something of a stick in the mud about music you can't walk home humming. Rather than humming Ionisation just to spite you, I will remind you 1) that I occasionally try not to be such a lowbrow, and 2) that I am on speaking terms with a couple of the alarmniks. And then I will pick up my violin and play a whole bunch of notes and eventually return to the tonic and nod at the conductor, because that's my cadenza, I mean caveat, I mean filing cabinet. You can't really do much with my review of their concerts, because I'm automatically going to think they're neat.
Well actually, though, there is still a lot of Varese I am quite prepared to do without for the rest of my days, and even a stellar performance won't sway me. If I never hear Deserts again, it's no skin off my ass. And I think I'm still on record as on the fence about the staging of concert works, though the audience was riveted by what director Nigel Maister did with Integrales to close the program. Staging isn't quite the right word, though I don't have a better one: it's not the clumsy kind of thing they always do at the opera these days during the overture, trying to give non-programmatic music a plot of any of that. It is in fact quite the opposite of staging, taking the concert in part off the stage, into the theater.
I think I'm for it in principle, but then you have to do it in an actual theater and results may vary. Hey, maybe you could name a lesser ensemble that: Results May Vary. Anyway yes, what I'm trying to put into words is that I happened to be in this terrific seat a nice old man gave me, and so the musicians were all around me, but in other parts of the theater, I am told the effect was a bit puzzling. And, wait here while I set this comment up by saying I really did adore the theatrical element of their Cale/Warhol thing at Zankel...for me, house lights to black at the end of a piece comes from a certain corner of the effect drawer. So, alright: mixed feelings, but I'm glad they do these things. Unlike the Cage piece (also Zankel) Integrales mostly just required the performers, when they weren't playing, to appear fascinated by each other's music-making, and I feel safe in saying they honestly were.
One of the fun things at an AWS concert is the moment where they do something they really oughtn't be able to. In my experience there tends to be at least one piece that seems like a little bit of the impossible laid before you. This time it had to do with Poeme Electronique. Now, if I understood the program notes correctly, Poeme Electronique springs from Varese's idea that the most wonderful thing in the world would be if we could have music without performers. This is of course wrong-headed, impossible, uninteresting, and stupid. In that order. The only stupider idea I can think of is: hey wouldn't it be neat if we had music without listeners?
In this admittedly pouty mindset, I suffered through the tape of Poeme Electronique before the intermission. And then, after the intermission, they played the thing live. And then we all rose as a unit and carried conductor Alan Pierson through the streets on our shoulders in celebration of the gall of trying it and the unblinking derring-do of pulling it off. Well, we should have.
I think the person who gets singled out this time for the absurd reward of my praise is going to be Jessica Johnson, who plays flute and piccolo for the group. I'll admit right now when I saw her putting in an earplug for the extended, merciless piccolo passages in Hyperprism (I think it was that one) I wondered if the piece might not be issued with a few extra pair for audience members, but that's just me and my highly conditional love of modernism. So, after intermission, she performed Density 21.5, a flute solo. I think it is fair to say the music is not dramatically less thorny, but her performance was so assured as to make easy sense of it, make it beguiling, even, and far more than a box of avant-garde trickery.
Nods also to the Manhattan School of Music Percussion Ensemble, who were tight as you could ask in Ionisation, and also somehow relaxed. Um, and cute. Sorry boys, can't help but notice. (And why are 93% of percussionists boys, I wonder? I mean, don't do a research study or anything, but why?)
Well, there may be a Cavalleria in the offing, or if not, next stop: Jenufa.