Calder Quartet has been Ensemble in Residence at Carlsbad from its founding ten years ago.They returned again, with friends, Saturday night for a multifaceted and satisfying set full of fun, adventure and danger.
The fun, in particular, was to be had in Steven Mackey's "Physical Property" for string quartet and electric guitar, with the composer playing the latter. Originally written for Kronos Quartet, "Physical Property" poses plentiful technical challenges for its players, but is ultimately about the rush and thrill of taking them on. All five musicians, and particularly Mackey, appeared to be deriving a quantum of goofy joy as they negotiated the course.
(The coda to "Physical Property" has since been reused in "Salad Days," for Mackey's prog-rock project Big Farm; attentive readers will recall that Big Farm bids fair to be my favorite record of 2013.)
Caroline Shaw of Roomful of Teeth, infra, joined the Quartet for two selections from her "By and By," settings of hopeful folk songs with troubled and ambivalent accompaniment. While Shaw sang "Angel Band" and "I'll Fly Away" with pure sweet sincerity, the Quartet fretted and muttered and second-guessed her sunny optimism.
Danger loomed in the form of Bartok's forbidding Quartet No. 3. The Calders are scheduled to essay Bartok's entire String Quartet oeuvre later this year at New York's Metropolitan Museum. The Bartok quartets are among the most daunting in the repertoire. The Third groans, plucks, yearns and glistens through four uninterrupted movements, handled here with richness and fluidity.
The concluding work brought the Calder/Carlsbad bond full circle: a section from Festival founder Matt McBane's "Ghost in the Machine," which he wrote for the Quartet for the second year of the Festival in 2005—as they noted, it was one of the very first pieces written specifically for them. (The Quartet has a generous collection of commissions to its credit now, many of them premiered in Carlsbad, and is in the process of recording a dozen of them under the umbrella title of "Eclectic Currents.") The "ghost" in McBane's piece is live electronic manipulation of the Quartet as it plays, such that ephemeral memories of earlier portions haunt through later ones. It was a fitting punctuation to the first decade of a fruitful relationship.
Claire Chase seems able to channel the hidden breath of the universe through her catalogue of flutes. This is not your butterfly and unicorn flute, but flute with rigor, flute without compromise, flute with nonnegotiable demands.
Chase performed, without breaks or comment, five of the pieces that will appear on her forthcoming album, Density. (The other selection on the album, Philip Glass's "Piece in the Shape of a Square", was on offer at the Friday Village Music Walk.) All but the last piece involved electronic accompaniment, largely in the form of the flutist playing in the company of multiple versions of herself. Eleven of her, for example, were involved in Steve Reich's voluptuously surging "Vermont Counterpoint," during which Chase moved purposefully around the stage swapping through flutes of various registers. Bass flute was at the center of Marcos Balter's "Pessoa" (a West Coast premiere), a lustrous, humid and elegaic piece. The hardest nut on the program to crack was Alvin Lucier's "Almost New York", in some ways more science experiment than concert music, in which a pure tone oscillator screeled and shifted slowly as Chase moved in darkness from flute to flute, producing a single note on each, held until it and the oscillator found commonality. Bursting energy, and the retrn of light, were the hallmarks of Mario Diaz de León's "Luciform" (also a West Coast premiere). At last, all acompaniment and other flutes cast aside, Chase took up a flute of platinum for a piercing flight towad the infinite with Edgard Varèse's 1939 "Density 21.5." Having essentially held its collective breath for 45 minutes, the audience ovated at length.
Claire Chase will close the Festival in a joint performance with percussionist Steven Schick, including a the world premiere of this year's Festival commission.
Incidental: As was pointed out by Matt McBane—who, it must be said, is probably the most self-effacing Music Festival founder in all of Christendom—Claire Chase's home town is Leucadia, which is basically the next little village south on the coast from Carlsbad.
Roomful of Teeth, lemme say, has the best group name of any vocal ensemble, ever.
The spunk and cheekiness of that name carried over to RoT's ten-song set, which mixed pieces from the group's splendid debut album—Number 3 on this fool's Best of 2012 list—with new and/or so-far unreleased work. They even inserted a round of "Happy Birthday" for one of their members, insisting the audience join in, on key. Highlights were many, including:
Judd Greenstein's "Montmartre," which piles up syllables, shuffles and rejuggles them, and includes in the middle a North Star-period Philip Glass pastiche that never fails to make this fool grin.
A thus far unreleased addditional section from Sarah Kirkland Snider's "Unremembered," settings of poems by Nathaniel Bellows. "The Guest," which involves the story of a child sleepwalking in the snow, has the same dramatic focus and variety as Snider's Penelope (heard here in 2011), but achieves it entirely with voices. This entire cycle will, I hope, see release some day.
William Brittelle's "Beneath the Minotaur," a particular favorite of mine, was not on the program, but Brittelle's "High Done No Why To" was. It showcases the composer's fondness for twisting pop harmonies in to exotic balloon animal shapes.
Two sections from Caroline Shaw's Partita, winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for music, were included, the other two having been performed in Magee Park in the afternoon. "Passacaglia", inspired by the powerful colors of a Sol Lewitt work at MassMOCA, was particularly potent in live performance.
Merrill Garbus's "Quizassa", offered here as the finale, simply exploded off the stage, like fireworks in the funkiest boite in all Bulgaria, a rousing topper to a resounding night. Vox vincit omnia.
Photos and rudimentary processing by the blogger.