in: Reviews

March 6, 2016

Rare Flat Spot on Radius

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“Season 17, Fresh Paint,” serves as Radius Ensemble’s appellation for its four Saturday evening concerts at Pickman Hall. Past winner of a CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programing, the ensemble took on two premieres by local composers along with Poulenc’s well-known Sextet for piano and winds. Considering the time given to music as compared with that to talking and waiting, there was not a lot to holler about yesterday.

Opening the short program, Radius premiered a flute quartet by Larry Rubin, which won the fifth annual Pappalardo Composition Competition. Rubin is a student at Longy School of Music of Bard College where radius resides. Artistic Director Jennifer Montbach introduced his eight-minute piece entitled “It’s So Wonderful” as “all about textures and colors.”

Not surprisingly, murmuring string tremolos and sporadic flute flutter tonguing arrived among the first sounds. In contrast, dense brutish sound clusters followed; the composer wrote of this alternation, “the yin-yang in a state of rapid spin offers me a convenient metaphor for how experiences I perceive as being dichotomous are actually linked. This feels, inexplicably, ‘So Wonderful.’” Brady, Diaz, Futagami, and Bolkosky advanced the premiere with complete commitment. “It’s So Wonderful” admirably stayed its course, immobile, inward looking.

Cast as lightweight and in a Roaring Twenties fashion, Poulenc’s Sextet joins the piano with a standard wind quintet in delightful paradox. Its oft acerbic utterings tended toward the shrill, its obvious wittiness, instead, inclining toward seriousness. Absent were those sighing melodic moments in the Divertissement and those swooning gestures in the Finale.

All six radius players had their moments: Brady’s deeply gorgeous low-register flute line, Morejon’s wistful, touching bassoon solo, Bob’s Stravinsky-sharp rhythm, Howarth’s potent exclamations, Montbach’s and Egozy’s timbral exchanges. Yet that old-time movie jerkiness, that bubbling and reminiscing which just as often keeps the listeners on the edge of their seats, those charming qualities which usually make a sheer delight of the Sextet, seemed not the intention behind this outing.

Eun Young Lee composed the second of two new pieces on the program. Its title,*12*, denotes the Zodiac. The virtually packed Pickman Hall suddenly went dark and the projection of a star-filled sky lit up the silver screen. Expectancy was everywhere; you could hear pin drop. Nothing happened. We waited some more. Nothing.

After some time, twelve players came onstage, sat down in front of the screen, and tuned their instruments. Next, standing amidst nine music stands, the star-scape behind him, Eran Egozy came on to talk about Lee’s work, which had finally brought the entire ensemble of nine radius members together on the stage. Her work would also be accompanied by 12 smartphone players drawn from the audience.

Lee’s *12* for ensemble with audience participation (that’s where the smartphones come into play) also drew upon further collaboration with Egozy as computer scientist and Jeff Hesser as digital artist.

Each of the Zodiac signs was musically represented by duos or trios. There was one exception, the final, Pisces, which all too briefly had everybody playing at once. For each sign, players walked (not noiselessly) to their stands, performed their parts, gathered up their sheet music, and returned to their seats.

Radius Ensemble (file photo)

Radius Ensemble (file photo)

Fragments upon fragments one after another would never congeal into something greater. Here a whole-tone scale, there a nod to serialism’s angularities. Lee, it might be argued, is developing an international language, or, perhaps more precisely, a European vocabulary. All totaled, *12* lasted some twenty minutes.

That starry sky would change over to vertical and horizontal bars flashing, constellations dancing about, circles enlarged and compressed. The Egozy-dubbed “smartphonists’”, participation in the visual aspect of the piece allowed them no opportunity to interact musically with this, elementary albeit confusing, show.

This regrettable rendez-vous with Radius luckily constitutes a real rarity for the ensemble.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer). www.notescape.net

1 Comment

  1. It seems to me that the author has significantly misunderstood the extent of the participation of the “smartphonists” in *12*. In the smartphone enabled movements, all the percussive sounds were being generated in real-time by the smartphonists as reactions to what the participating audience members heard in the music. (Radius Ensemble has nine players, not 12 as mentioned twice in the article, but no percussion.) The projection showed visualizations of the shimmering of drums or the glowing sound of a synthesized metal plate. To me, these sounds were most effective in the solo flute movement, where Sarah Brady’s controlled and yet so expressive playing was surrounded by small bursts of crackling percussion from the three audience members (who reacted extremely well to what they heard). It reminds me that Radius’s lack of percussion means that we have never heard Brady and Radius perform George Crumb’s Idyll for the Misbegotten (for solo flute and three percussionists, ideally to be heard from across a lake on a warm August evening) — Radius performs Crumb so well, that perhaps it’s something guest percussion artists might enable in the future?

    Comment by Michael Scott Cuthbert — March 8, 2016 at 10:21 am

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