The double bill is, surely, a thing of the past, from the days when movies were a dollar all the time. There would be a major feature with a strikingly contrasting “B” entry following (hence the term “B-movie”); the latter, quite often, was in the film noir genre that today is more likely than what had been the splashy “A” feature to have the most devoted following.
This train of thought bemused us on July 12th as the Rockport Chamber Music Festival presented its own type of double bill, a program whose first half comprised a fairly standard classical recital featuring pianist Andrew Rangell and violinist Aaron Boyd, while the second half featured a quintet called Eviyan, whose senior member is the out-there clarinetist Evan Ziporyn, who put a game face on this dichotomy in his pre-concert remarks on the repertoire for the two halves: the first devoted to music by Romanian violinist-composer George Enescu, whose Violin Sonata #3 was designated as “in Romanian folk style,” and in the second half, the folk-world-jazz-pop-classical fusion idiom of the Eviyan ensemble.
Enescu (1881-1955) was enormously influential in his day as performer, composer, and teacher (so much so that his birthplace, Liveni in the Moldavian region, has renamed itself George Enescu). Much of his music is infused with Romanian folk idioms although, unlike his contemporary Bartók, apart from the folk influences his music is less individually distinctive. That’s not to say that particular pieces are not beautiful and arresting, and the two works on the Rangell-Boyd half of the program were certainly that. Rangell began with the Carillon Nocturne from 1916, a spectacularly evocative bit of music about music (what’s the purely aural equivalent for sound-painting?). With a noticeable Debussyan influence, it beautifully recreates the off-tune sound of carillons through cluster chords, and finishes with richly resonant rumblings in the bass. Rangell’s performance was crystalline and delicate, with exceptional subtlety in pedaling.
In the major work of the first half, Enescu’s third sonata, the composer sought to emulate the effect of the lautarii (fiddlers groups of rural Romania), in which folk melodies are embellished and enhanced with virtuoso runs, double and triple stops, pizzicato with both hands, harmonics and other effects that in effect obscure the tune almost the way a sitarist does to an Indian raga. The idea in the sonata is that Enescu notated much of this elaboration, but of course the performer needs to get into the spirit and bring out its soul and fire. Boyd, concertmaster of the Tucson Symphony and first violinist of the Zukofsky Quartet (in residence at Bargemusic in New York), was all over it, dreamy and improvisatory in the first movement, and by turns elegant, stormy, chirpy and passionate throughout. His tone was wonderful, though not perhaps as shaded as the excerpt of Enescu’s own performance of this piece that Ziporyn played in his talk. Boyd’s tremolo harmonics in the second movement were awesome, and the bravura ending of finale elicited great audience enthusiasm. For a great deal of the sonata, the piano part was given over to staccato figures that suggested the strumming accompaniments of the fiddler-orchestras, though by the finale the piano part was in high virtuosic gear (Enescu was a highly capable pianist as well as a great virtuoso violinist). Rangell’s performance was as idiomatic and persuasive as Boyd’s and, it goes without saying, technically flawless. The only touch of slight waywardness came when, after the players’ bows, he paused while exiting the stage to take in the remarkable sunset out the great stage window onto Rockport Harbor.
It is an indication of the mission of the less than year-old-EVIYAN to note its instrumentation: Iva Bittová, violin (and vocals, about which more later), Evan Ziporyn, clarinets (regular and bass), Gyan (hard “g”) Riley, guitar, Blake Newman, contrabass, and Sandeep Das, tabla. An ensemble like this is not going to go in much for Eine kleine Nachtmusik, at least not the way Mozart wrote it. In fact, what they do is write their own music, which consists of partly notated work and an elaborate process of semi-improvised working-up of the final product. The linchpin of the ensemble is Bittová, who began her career in theater but then took up the violin as her main axe. Thus, in addition to colorful, chirpy sonorities from the instrument, she contributes, well, colorful chirpy sonorities from her voice (sometimes with participation of others in the group), generally in the form of scat but sometimes, as in two of the numbers played on Friday, to actual texts, plus whistling and other sound effects. The other players, being all of them first-rate instrumentalists, contribute memorably as well.
The ensemble performed seven numbers on Friday: Pygmiesque by Ziporyn, in a modish 7/8 rhythm and vaguely modal harmony, with Middle Eastern cantillation, preceded Melismantra, by Riley, featuring florid vocal and instrumental melodic lines (that’s the melisma part, get it?) offset by passages suggestive of chanting (the mantra). The clarinet part was clever: Ziporyn played bass clarinet in its upper range, then switched to regular clarinet in its chalumeau range, for a lovely, sultry effect. Paper Cone, by Bittová, Riley, Ziporyn, Vladimir Vaclavek and Ken Hunt, was moderately perky, had a lovely solo for contrabass with charming harmonics, and seemed the most jazz-influenced of the set. Riley’s Midnight opened with a guitar solo of an almost John Dowland sensibility, then evolved into what seemed like an ethereal Appalachian-style passacaglia. Ziporyn’s Odd Meeting, he said, started out called Odd Meter, but when he realized that there were going to be many odd meters in it, he temporized on the title. There was not much going on melodically or harmonically here, but the rhythms certainly danced along like, as the PDQ Bach joke had it, someone with one leg shorter than the other, with Das keeping it all together with rock-solid drumming. Another Ziporyn piece followed, called Sun Shower, whose tune is based on a series of chord changes, developed by increasing elaboration that could have been variations. The chord changes then give way to a steadier, more rhythmically based section over which the vocals and instrumentals riff. Finally, Bittová and Vaclavek’s Nalehava (the translation we get from Czech is “urgently”) wrapped up with elaborate vocalizations from several of the players, some of which sounded like they might have been in Czech. This piece, basically melodic and more complexly contrapuntal than the rest, also featured a big solo for Das.
It’s a little hard for a reviewer steeped in classical procedures to do justice to this kind of fusion/crossover repertoire, but the performances were certainly expert and lively, and the music engaging, although some of the cantillation tricks Bittová used were reused a bit too often. Audience members visibly bopping along were certainly treating the set as a welcome hair-down opportunity.