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Present Music Dazzles at Pitch Project Concert

Feb. 21, 2017
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Present Music has a tradition of exploring new performing venues. Last Thursday evening the concert was at the Pitch Project, an upstairs gallery at the Brenner Brewing Company on South Fifth Street. The room was an intimate and warm environment for a concert of chamber music. Bucking expectations, Artistic Director Kevin Stalheim programmed music by dead guys—except for three pieces.

Cory Smythe continues to be brilliantly dazzling at the piano. He valiantly tackled an ecstatic movement from Olivier Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus, which some people consider the most difficult piano music ever written. His intricate precision and sure sense of rhythm came through in the athletic, cheerful and monstrously challenging Canon B by Conlon Nancarrow. Those same qualities apply to Smythe’s account of Igor Stravinsky’s Tango. Scott Joplin’s Searchlight Rag was gentle, stylish and leisurely.

Eric Segnitz made a virtuoso showpiece of a movement from Béla Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin. Jennifer Clippert gave a lovely, considered performance of the most famous music for solo flute, Claude Debussy’s Syrinx. Various combinations of players came together for the rest of the program, with William Helmers on clarinet and Adrien Zitoun on cello.

I had never heard music by Brazilian Alexandre Lunsqui (b. 1969). His Three Short Pieces contemplate small cells of notes, first between violin and cello, then between flute and clarinet. The final piece was more colorful and seemed a good follow-up to the Messiaen music heard earlier.

The ensemble played two imaginative arrangements by Segnitz. Charles Ives’ Ragtime Dance journeys from rigorous rhythm to the hymn tune “Bringing in the Sheaves” and ends in the kind of earnest Americana typical of this composer. Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango is a sure-fire winner in any version.

György Ligeti’s Poéme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes is exactly what the title promises: Dozens of metronomes were set up around the room, started together and at different tempos. The clacking sounds came together in random combinations, thinning as the metronomes wound down and eventually stopped. It’s a wacky piece, but I noticed most people were pleasantly and effortlessly taking in the soundscape, eyes closed.

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