IN: Reviews

Equilibrium’s Kinds of Light and Poetics


Rembrandt contemplates Aristotle contemplating Homer

Initially taking shape in 2011, Equilibrium Ensemble continues to shape-shift as it remains open to new musical works, some that just might catch on and stick around for a while. Saturday evening’s outing at the New School of Music in Cambridge illustrated such. Quiz: who recognizes the names of Amy Beth Kirsten, Marti Epstein, Erin Gee, and Kate Soper?

I suspect more than a few. A prolific composer, Marti Epstein has heard her music often played in Boston. A 2017 Pulitzer Prize runner-up, Kate Soper is increasingly receiving national attention for her work that “explores the integration of drama and rhetoric into musical structure, the slippery continuums of expressivity, intelligibility and sense, and the wonderfully treacherous landscape of the human voice.” 

Judging from the gusto of those in attendance at Equilibrium’s musical exhibit, there was proof of at least some familiarity with such landscapes. And, by the way, the living room turned listening room at the New School was packed.

Notably, the intimate space fostered connections with the four new compositions. Up close to the seven musicians of the Equilibrium Ensemble, their absolute dedication was wholly evident. More so, these musicians seemed to have gotten the music just right throughout most of the program.

As could be surmised, the range of dynamics was from a wisp to a blast. So-called “extended techniques” including vocalizing, were also in play to which the seven produced, with naturalness, a real sense of having had considerable experience with such musical landscapes.

World Under Glass no. 2 (2011) for violin, cello, flute, and percussion conjured characters by way of segmented composition. The nine-minute piece refused serendipity rather eliciting meaningful creative reach. Amy Beth Kirsten maintained a thoughtfully spirited parade that marched and reveled.

Different Kinds of Light (2016) were shed through a soprano-cello lens of Aliana de la Guardia and Stephen Marotto. With the room darkened, listeners could not follow the printed texts of the 13 kinds of light, a misstep on the production side of the concert. Sapphire Light, Atom-bomb Light, and those in between could, however, be deciphered to a certain extent. Changing compositional devices, cello timbres, textures, and pauses guided the listener. The design’s transparency created by Marti Epstein surely was an attraction of the evening. So, too, were Marotto’s cello acoustics. By comparison, the vocal part, both the writing and singing, did not stray enough

Mouthpiece 28 (2016) for voice, violin, flute, bass clarinet, and percussion kept asking: What am I to make of this?  Composer Erin Gee provides a partial answer. She writes about “expanding the vocal sounds to form a kind of “super-mouth.” I gathered from this that the five performers involved would ultimately become a sort of an extended chorus. “Not pre-meaning, simply never in the directions of meaning.” Also Gee’s words helped direct the mind. Hers is a softer, kinder, amicable work, as one might find in the world of video game landscapes, yet with an abundance of cordiality. Short, softly sliding utterances playing off pulsations of the same ilk garnered a sense of pre-meaning exchange between breath and heartbeat. There was the allure of lovely pinging glissandos from bells placed under water.

Two of the composers, Epstein and Gee, were on hand to receive the positive reception to their works.

The best decision Kate Soper made was that of giving us Aristotle’s own words from “Poetics” and “Rhetoric.” Intelligibility and treacherous landscapes would come and go with the voice providing cohesion. Arrays of shifting sound blocks expressively meant to this listener overly prolonged exclamations and, not infrequently, imitations of gibberish. Look to an underlying momentum and there was but a continuous slow unsounded drone. Aliana de la Guardia’s clear-as-day speaking thankfully overshadowed the screechy and dulling Soper addiction to high register “singing.”

Matt Sharrock’s adept conducting wisely concentrated on the ensemble. Michael Avitabile on flutes, Chuck Furlong on bass clarinet, Mike Williams on percussion, Nicole Parks on violin, and Stephen Marotto on cello performed at unusually high levels, offering the best rewards of the evening.

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).

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