Some Assembly Required demanded nothing of the Ikea art from listeners on Sunday afternoon at the compact Lilypad in Inman Square, Cambridge, and no backstage or crew distanced audience from performers. “It’s awkward because there’s no backstage,” said hornist Justin Stanley at the end of the set, motioning for the clapping to stop because the ensemble couldn’t run off stage to escape the applause. Featuring Stanley, trombonist Justin Croushore, pianist Cholong Park, and guest clarinetist Celine Ferro, the group’s theme was “Modern American,” including works by Howard Buss, Ian Wiese, and George Rochberg (plus a surprise Astor Piazzolla from Argentina of the Americas).
The Intelligencer’s very own Ian Wiese (read his articles here), a graduate student composer at New England Conservatory, was one of the show’s notables; his post-minimalist Machinations I, commissioned by Some Assembly Required, saw its second performance on Sunday. Wiese described the four constituent elements: an ascending line, a descending line, a chorale, and a piano line, all of which were very small segments that extended over extremely long periods of time.
Wiese writes: “Machinations I is the first in a series of works set around the idea of small motifs developing after a long period of time, almost like individual processes working on a computer, even down to hierarchy of process. Some developments happen in the background and are mostly unnoticed; others are far more apparent and return at a far greater rate. Each process gets its own identity and becomes part of the larger piece as an important and necessary element.”
Wiese’s composition, segmental in nature, creates a captivating mix of busy and sparse, extending and expanding, deconstructing and piecing back together, the ensemble curtailing one other’s thoughts, ideas, words, and syllables in one moment and singing fat, lingering lines in another moment. New sections emerge from seemingly nothing, tricking the listener by introducing concepts that had been stewing in the background while other motives spoke more prominently. The rolling moments of calm felt most striking in Wiese’s work, his brief slowness broadening into a tense, digging, chromatic, determined edge, building towards an eventual racing exasperation that sprung to the end. The ensemble, steady and solid in its interpretation, spoke highly of the composition, enthusiastic about the idea of adding it to their regular repertoire. Quite right they were, as Machinations I seemed to please the entire crowd, as well.
Howard Buss’s Florida Tableau, had begun the show with a combination of “old and new Florida” elements, although I couldn’t quite fathom where Florida came into play through the entire duration of the work. The first movement, “The March of Progress,” combined polyrhythm, tonality, atonality, and counterpoint. The second, “Pastorale,” emphasized open spaces. The movement began with solo trombone, slowly adding other instruments – piano, then clarinet. The piano provided flourishes that added the concept of space and dimension, while the clarinet briefly conversed before the lone trombone continued its pastoral unfolding.
Ripped from the bones of Copland or Barber, maybe, but what made this tableau Floridian? Could this be Buss’s tones of the Florida Everglades? Croushore’s convincing pastoral setting made for a warm, spacious color against the disparate texture Buss provided. The third movement, “The Eternal Sea,” returned to the contrapuntal elements of the first movement, underlining the vastness and uncertainty of the sea, providing chord clusters, majestic trills and tremolos, and rushing passages, perhaps a little cliché while embodying the sea.
Rochberg’s Trio for B-flat clarinet, F horn, and piano revisited the ideas of expansion and pastoral setting, in a much older iteration, or as Rochberg described, “the primal values of music.” Although the piano sounded relatively flat on other pieces (due to the acoustic space, not Park’s playing), her melodic lines cut richly to the back of the room with impressive and sublime understanding of color, while Stanley’s horn sang lavish tones.
As an encore, Piazzolla’s “Winter” from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, sounded a little more soupy than saucy. Nevertheless, the leisurely tango aroused crowd at the end of a lighthearted afternoon, finished, of course, with a beer shared in the back of the Lilypad.
Rachael Fuller is an administrator at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studied piano and music theory. By night, she is a practicing musicologist and concert enthusiast.