|Steve Reich:||Music for Pieces of Wood (1973)|
|Henryk Górecki:||A Little Requiem for a Polka (1993)|
|John Adams:||Chamber Symphony (1992)|
Present Music Ensemble
Kevin Stalheim, conductor
The Milwaukee-based contemporary-music group Present Music opened its Madison season by presenting four works at Old Music Hall Thursday evening. Steve Reich's gorgeous Music for Pieces of Wood (1973), inspired by study with African master drummers, is scored for claves (tuned bars of wood). The music quickly achieves a trancelike effect as the five players enter one after the other, building up an incredibly complex rhythmic texture among the different pitches.
The two most recently composed pieces, A Little Requiem for a Polka (1993), by Henryk Górecki, and Domes (1993/94), by Kamran Ince, were less arresting. Although the Górecki piece was brilliantly orchestrated, it was a somewhat incoherent jumble, rather than a discernible sequence of ideas. Ince's piece, which he conducted, was essentially formless and made of naive, rather movie- music materials.
The major work was John Adams's Chamber Symphony (1992). Adams has developed away from Minimalism and become a master of rhythmic and coloristic effects. This work relates to Schoenberg's piece of the same name, but combines the earlier work's angst-inducing, intensely expressionistic motivic organization with a kind of pell-mell caricature, said to derive from cartoon soundtracks. As with much contemporary music, the central organizing element is rhythm, emphasized to the point where melodic or thematic characters are either absent or are basically submerged in the rhythmic texture.
The core group of seven players, led by Kevin Stalheim, doubled in this concert by an additional seven musicians, is solidly competent technically, though there were instances in which the ensemble was a bit ragged. The group has taken a leadership position in among Wisconsin chamber-music groups specializing in new repertory and is emjoying a well-deserved reputation for fine performances. Four more Madison appearances are on tap. Don't miss them.
Isthmus, September, 1994
Copyright 1994 Jess Anderson