The Ludovico Technique, a fictional aversion therapy from “A Clockwork Orange,” which caused negative reactions in the central anti-hero, including revulsion against Beethoven, is the basis for the name of a local ensemble made up of young and highly proficient musicians who performed at Boston Conservatory’s Seully Hall on Thursday, January 19th. Flute and percussion pieces from France’s André Jolivet and two Boston composers, Marti Epstein and Mischa Salkind-Pearl, ran the gamut from exciting to boring. The five up-and-coming performers, all of whom are from Boston, were completely another story: their phenomenal discipline.
Currently serving as Ensemble-in-Residence at The Boston Conservatory, the Ludovico Ensemble surprised both with its high professionalism among performers as much as with its questionable programming. Jolivet’s Suite en concert pour flûte et percussion (1965-66) and Salkind-Pearl’s In (2011) could have not been farther apart in terms of craftsmanship and musicality.
The program opened with a seven-minute composition entitled Yellow Pale Blue (2011) written for the Ludovico Ensemble. Marti Epstein, who teaches at the Berklee College of Music, created light, lilting lullaby-like surfaces that gently rocked between silent resting points. The alto flute led the way with an up-and-down patterned melodic movement in steady pulses, the four percussionists quietly “shadowing and underlining.” Jessi Rosinki’s lovely alto flutings came with a softness altogether fitting for “the color I see when I hear the sound of the alto flute.”
Jolivet’s Suite en concert pour flûte et percussion is the kind of piece that on first hearing might be challenging, certainly not for its emotional content, which is everywhere in evidence, or for its complete craftsmanship, but rather for its intensely concentrated intricacies which Jolivet deploys throughout the four movements totaling some 16 minutes. Perhaps, too, his voice, which is less distinctive than that of another member of his La Jeune France — Messiaen — might have had us listening more intently than usual. The Suite has become standard repertory for university and conservatory ensembles.
Ludovico’s Thursday night performance was the first I have heard live of Jolivet’s masterful piece for flute and four percussionists. Rosinki and the four percussionists, Jeffrey Means, Bill Solomon, Nicholas Tolle, and Mike Williams, could have inspired solely through their intense concentration and commitment—phenomenal discipline—but there was much, much more to their live reenactment of the ever-inviting sounds and structures of Suite en concert.
The non-showy, dedicated Ludovico percussionists synced and soloed with exceptional might and finesse. Mysterious rumblings in sotto voce resounded in the second movement marked Stabile. The thrilling third movement, Hardiment, wound up with upbeat after upbeat, building to an explosive downbeat climatic close. When Jolivet turned to regular pulsations, the four percussionists always knew what to do, imbuing the Frenchman’s music with mystery; conjuring an incantation out of intellectual stuff.
Rosinki’s flutes, one an alto, beautified the Suite, gave it an elegance and a sense of perfection, showing phenomenal discipline. The melodic writing of Jolivet, though intricate, cries out for architectural forging and dynamic thrust. Rhythmic motives in the lower register need emphatic chiff and bite.
Percussion has an infinite number of instruments, or sounds, something Mischa Salkind-Pearl seems to have had in mind for the first performance of his piece, In, a 25-minute obsession with sound that went nowhere.
Round after round of applause came from a very strong turnout — mostly students. Rosinski deservedly took extra bows. It was perfectly clear to me that all of this prolonged enthusiasm was meant for all of the Ludovico performers. And rightly so.