Ensemble: Périphérie in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artists Series presents: Ensemble: Périphérie
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 26, 2013

As part of DCINY’s Artists Series program, Ensemble: Périphérie (EP) was invited to perform at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in what was their New York debut.  Established in 2010 by composers Joseph Dangerfield and Luke Dahn, EP consists of a core group of performing artists based in the Midwest. One of the primary goals of EP is to bring greater exposure to composers and works that are underperformed and neglected, or on the periphery, so to speak.  They cite a quotation of Henri Dutilleux: “For me the only new music would be music that a composer of genius successfully created on the periphery of all the movements of our time and in the face of all current slogans and manifestos. Generally speaking, whatever the intellectual movements in force, not enough attention is paid to matters of temperament and originality…”.

This declaration reminds one of those ubiquitous pharmaceutical advertisements: WARNING! The music you are about to hear might cause momentary discomfort to persons accustomed to more traditional musical idioms. Side effects may include confusion, aural disorientation, and feelings of anger. Persons who do not well tolerate Dodecaphonical are advised not to listen. Make no mistake: EP is not interested in conventional popularity. Their repertoire is not music for the masses; they are all, however, superb musicians as individuals and have a musical rapport as an ensemble that truly believes in their mission.

Opening the concert was the New York Premiere of Cadences by Luke Dahn (b. 1976). A four-movement musical homage to Alexander Calder, scored for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, and piano, Cadences uses four Calder structures (The Crab, La Grande Voile, Lily of Force, and Three Up, Three Down) for inspiration. Mr. Dahn skillfully captured the essence of these works; the quirky nature of The Crab, the brooding qualities of La Grande Voile, the delicate lines of Lily of Force, and mobile-like aspects of Three Up, Three Down.  I suspect Calder would have heartily approved of both the music and the exceptional performance from EP.

Four Songs on Poems of Seamus Heaney, also having its New York Premiere, from composer Louis Karchin (b. 1951) followed. Mr. Karchin set to music four poems of the 1995 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, poet, playwright, translator, and lecturer, Seamus Heaney (1939-2013). The poems are Lightenings iv (misspelled in the program as Lightnings twice, but correctly in the program notes), The Rain Stick, Lightenings i, and Settings xxiv. Scored for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, and soprano, this work is not easily appreciated immediately, but does have many moments of beauty and import. However, balance issues overshadowed many of those moments, as the ensemble obscured soprano Michelle Crouch. I also noticed many audience members with their heads buried in the program struggling to follow the text, which meant they were focused in the wrong direction. Quite simply, either the singer must project more consistently or the ensemble needs to play more softly.  As a whole, I was disappointed in this performance, not necessarily in the quality of the playing, singing, or composition, but in the overall effect.

After intermission, the second half commenced with I Hear the Sound That Has Fallen Silent by Irina Dubkova (b. 1957). Scored for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, and piano, this work is part of a larger composition entitled In the Soft Moonlight. Filled with rhythmic vitality and momentum-building intensity, this is one of EP’s signature pieces and was played with power and assurance. It was an outstanding performance of an interesting piece, and it got things back on track. Next up was Butterfly Dance by David Gompper (b.1954). Based on a Hopi Indian tune of the same name, Butterfly Dance is a two-part work scored for violin, viola, cello, clarinet, and piano. The composer conceived (in his words), “the first (part) as a preparation – although aesthetically removed but motivically based on the second part, a more straightforward rendition of the tune itself.” Clarinetist Yasmin Flores was the star of this work, from the soaring sounds of the opening section to the jaunty dance of the second.

The Wild, the New York premiere of the chamber version of the first movement of the Piano Concerto of Joseph Dangerfield (b. 1977), based on the Barnett Newman painting of the same name, ended the concert. It is a work of raw, untamed qualities and was played with a practiced edginess by the complete forces (excluding the soprano) of EP. A lesser ensemble would probably have allowed these ideas to deteriorate into amorphous cacophony, but EP made it all work. The audience left knowing that the musically unheralded and underplayed have a worthy champion, and that champion is Ensemble: Périphérie.