Have you heard of Ludovico? Chances are even greater that you have as yet to hear this exceptional local ensemble in action. Filling the center of a small basement venue within the Davis Square Theater in Somerville Tuesday evening in quite spectacular fashion, yet with an unusual humility, 100 percussion instruments doubled the number of attendees embracing this rare experience.
Sitting in a diamond shape arrangement of four tables, some lit up with candles and a rotating sphere of colorful light, four young percussionists began their show, caressing–yes I did say that–their instruments, all of which were on the smaller side. The action, if one could call it that, for the opening piece entitled Kavadrat (1989) by Vinko Globokar, was virtually all internalized. For just under a quarter of an hour the most delicate and enticing sounds would ultimately seduce the ear. What a break this was from the noisy and busy daily world around us and from the obvious fare we expect with percussion concerts.
And if you are wondering, yes, this “composition” would have to rely considerably on the “interpreters.” Having glimpsed at the “aleatoric” score and having listened to several performances by other ensembles on YouTube, I was continually impressed by the very personality of the ensemble. They intimately spoke to each other via their scrapers, wood blocks, ocarina, rattles, and the like. In this mostly soft world of twittering and tweeting, often insect-like, these astute four sounded as one organism that would seize full attention. After exchanging tables four times, the ensemble carried the ritual out to its surprising end. Huddling together in the center space, their unison clapping, shouting, and cryptic chanting seemed to celebrate that remarkably imaginary state to which we had been transported.
Next on the program was what appears to be a meticulously formed work, as we are speaking (2004), by Fritz Hauser. Utilizing the facets of space as much as sound, the four took to the back of the performance area where they sat somewhat crisscross at a rectangular table. Each had a set of temple blocks to be struck with chopsticks. Different pitches would stand out from among the gentle polyphonic tapping. One listener said it was “mesmerizing.”
The patter of rain on the roof would only suggest the general climate of the six movements, or segments. The first was very short, the fourth the loudest, and the last had each player separated from the others. Again, the Ludovico percussionists carried listeners away, this time, though, through metrical cadence with a beat, or more aptly, with variously paced layers of pulsations.
To Jeffrey Means, Nicholas Tolle, Aaron Trant, and Mike Williams, for this seven-minute sparkler, encore! Seriously.
Jessi Rosinski on both alto and bass flutes appeared in Misha Salkind-Pearl’s in (2012/2015), wherein larger instruments such as gongs and drums were brought into action. This time the four percussionists formed a large quadrangle. What a whopper of a performance this was! Rosinski towed a long, fragmented melodic line with warm, shadowy flutings. Her taking special care with vibrato and breath gave depth to the performance. When drums reached maximum amplitude, a near-din taking over the 150-seat theatre, the overall shape of the piece, a long crescendo, became completely clear. Both flutes were obviously absent.
It was supposedly fitting to balance out the soft, delicate, and tantalizing with the loud and overpowering. However, the forward vision of the Globokar and Hauser could not be found in the conventions of the Salkind-Pearl, which for me outstayed its welcome lasting upwards to a half-hour.
Artistic Director Nicholas Tolle made a fascinating point in his program notes. “One thing I find unique about percussion music is how much of it is strictly interpretive and requires no formal percussion training. That isn’t to say that the music is simple, just that one need not have spent thousands of hours practicing snare drum in order to perform it.”
That surely is an insight into what I gleaned from these Ludovico percussionists. Their interpretive powers lifted those 100-odd instruments into the most expressive music-makers imaginable. Still more, Means, Tolle, Trant, and Williams exhibited a matchless comradery, at once seamless and non-self-serving.