New York Times
January 24, 2003
1977 Chamber Music America has been providing services and support
- meaning everything from information to commissioning fees - to ensembles
that play chamber music as well as the organizations that present
year its members gather in New York for a national conference that
is part master class and part trade show: between seminars on grant
writing, marketing, tension and pain reduction for performers, acoustics
and time management, participants roam around an exhibition hall where
managers, publishers and record companies show their wares.
year the organization is celebrating its 25th anniversary, so in addition
to its conference at the Hilton New York from Jan. 16 through last
Sunday it offered a marathon concert at Symphony Space on Saturday.
Of the 100 groups that sought a place on the eight-and-a-half-hour
program, 17 were selected. In keeping with the expansive definition
of chamber music that Chamber Music America adopted a few years ago,
slots in the marathon were allocated to world music and jazz as well
as classical music.
approach has its benefits. In addition to yielding a varied and sometimes
surprising marathon program it puts pressure on conventional ensembles
to find fresh approaches to their repertory without violating the
essence of the music they play. In the segment I caught - the home
stretch from 8:30 to 11:30 - there was a bit of everything.
an all-female vocal ensemble that specializes in early music, offered
songs by Luigi Rossi and Monteverdi as well as a medley drawing on
music by a handful of lesser-known composers. If it were a rock group,
one might describe Bimbetta's stage manner and dress as retro: their
dress is a bit 60's-ish, and there is a touch of the Shangri-Las in
the physical gestures that accompany their singing. Vocally, the performance
had its loose moments, but if Bimbetta isn't obsessive about ensemble
polish, they give an entertaining show.
Concertante, a string sextet, offered a luxurious, rich-hued account
of Schoenberg's "VerklŠrte Nacht." If the ensemble erred in its reading,
it was in the degree to which it allowed Schoenberg's nascent modernism
to be subsumed in the rich soup of Romantic string texture, with throbbing
vibrato and sweetening dynamics. But all those elements are in the
score, and how an ensemble balances them is a matter of taste. Given
the intensity and sheer beauty of the sound Concertante produced,
it was easy to understand the choice they made. And a listener came
to appreciate that choice later in the evening when the Juilliard
String Quartet closed the concert with an unaccountably dull, flat
rendering of Beethoven's Quartet in F (Op. 135).
Fula Flute Ensemble mixed West African traditional music with Western
elements, most notably in "Teriya," a set of variations on a French-Canadian
folk song. The group's instrumentation was based around the tambin,
a wooden African flute, and also included the kora (a lute), a balafon
(an African xylophone) and a fully Western double bass. The music
was bright and tactile, and much of the solo flute playing, by Bailo
Bah and Sylvain Leroux, involved vocalizing into the flute, an effect
that jazz fans would know from the early work of Rahsaan Roland Kirk,
and that rock fans would know from Ian Anderson's performances with
in the final segment of the marathon, Kamikaze Ground Crew, a jazz
band, offered a moving deconstruction of Hans Eisler's setting of
Brecht's "Easter Sunday, 1935" as the centerpiece of its set. And
the New Century Saxophone Quartet gave a lively account of Michael
Torke's burbling "July" and somewhat drier readings of excerpts from
Bach's "Art of the Fugue."