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Present Music’s Mixed Bag at Turner Hall Ballroom

Classical Review

Feb. 11, 2010
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As is often the case with Present Music, the well-attended concert on Saturday night at Turner Hall Ballroom was a mixed bag, roaming from contemporary chamber works to an African techno band. And as is more often true than not, the journey had some high and low points.

The musicians of Present Music have always been its strong suit. Hearing them play two movements from Philip Glass’ Glassworks (1981) with precision and tight ensemble was the highlight of the evening. The movement “Facades” was a not uninteresting, pleasant and peaceful meditation. “Rubric” was minor-key gleeful Glass, percolating with energy. Music by Glass was revolutionary when it appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Time has softened its edge. The style infuriated music academics, but cleared the palate of dry and dull atonal sounds then in fashion in contemporary music. I remember attending an early 1980s Glass concert, featuring Glassworks, at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The audience was an entertaining and potent mix of safety-pin-in-ear types and middle-aged concertgoers.

Caroline Mallonée’s Reaction, for eight players on mixed instruments, was premiered, beginning with fast, dry pointillistic sounds, and easing into a lengthy final section that blanketed atmospheric haze. Lukas Ligeti, son of master composer Gyrgy Ligeti, was a featured guest. His string quartet Moving Houses (1996) made little impression. Even with the deliberate purpose of a changing landscape, the piece did not present any clear ideas, wandering aimlessly. The imbalance in amplification did not help, with the cello overemphasized. Ligeti later played solos on his invented electronic marimba, cuing programmed sounds with mallets. The process was enticing. I spent the entire first piece trying to figure out what was going on; mallet hits did not translate into discernible reactivesounds.

Ligeti joined the band Burkina Electric, from the West African country Burkina Faso. Lead singer Ma Lingani was decidedly the charismatic star with her upbeat energy and distinctive looks. She was flanked by two stylish male dancer/singers. The band is as much about contemporary African choreography as it is about music. A guitar player and drummer (Ligeti) joined the electronic tracks.


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