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Hearing Out the Women

Present Music concert featured contemporary female composers

Jan. 17, 2014
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Present Music has regularly explored alternative concert venues, not out of line with the downtown and Brooklyn scene that has emerged in New York in the last decade. The Saturday evening concert was held at Anodyne Coffee in Walker’s Point. Ambient room sounds were sometimes distracting, though the acoustics of the large, wood-floored room were not bad for music making.

The program, “Women in the Chamber,” was a sampler of deliberately disparate works by 10 women from various countries. Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin was the most prominent composer represented, and her 2007 work Fast Blue Village 2 (a title I don’t pretend to understand) for string quartet was the most persuasive piece heard, with its bubbling, driving rhythm.  

Pianist Cory Smythe was dazzling in Piano Etude No. 5 (Toccata), a very difficult bit of relentless treble chatter by Korean-born composer Unsuk Chin. Playing prepared piano, including much plucking of internal strings, Smythe gave an elegant rendering of Vivian Fung’s Glimpses.

I liked Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s Another Heart Beats for viola, cello and piano, despite one of the most ridiculously dense and pretentious program notes by a composer I’ve ever read.

Of the three movements of Lisa Bielawa’s The Trojan Women for string quartet, the “Andromache” movement was most convincing, painting a mood of floating in the unreality of numb sadness. String Quartet No. 1 by Judith Moy, a senior at Kettle Moraine School for Arts and Performance, was earnest in its well-crafted simplicity.

I wish more poetry was read at chamber music concerts. Dasha Kelly read her effective poem “Shimmer” before Liza White’s Freestyle, a light-hearted sort of chamber music mash-up of hip-hop. Eve Belgarian’s I’m Worried Now, But I Won’t Be Worried Long communicated a friendly yet anxious gloom. Zosha Di Castri’s soundscape Du haut de l’Orillon for clarinet and pre-recorded sound (with live processing of clarinet) is too long a loose ramble for my tastes.

Present Music musicians Eric Segnitz, Margot Schwartz, Erin Pipal, Adrien Zitoun and William Helmers again proved they are up for anything, playing with enthusiasm and panache.


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