“Kinesphere,” dance artist/theorist Rudolf Laban’s coinage, describes the immediate space surrounding our bodies at full arms’ length, the first type of social distance; given the wide variety of personal stylings on the concert tonight, it’s safe to assume that extends into artistic expression as well, not just personal space. Watching Radius’s Saturday night proceedings at Longy via livestream may have been convenient, but doing so denied me the experience of sharing space at something closer to arms’ length (against Laban’s terminology but perhaps very apt to this moment in time?).
The livestream began on the second piece, Andre Previn’s Quintet for horn and string quartet. (The promised opener, Jonathan Bailey Holland’s Intimacy of Harmony, performed by Sarah Bob, was nowhere to be seen, at least on livestream). Previn composed this lengthy work for the Terezin Music Foundation to commemorate the artists who were interred and lost their lives at the concentration camp, which fed the ovens of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Helmed by Radius hornist Anne Howarth, this rarely heard work amplifies the Hollywood side of Previn’s music with a deep message of overcoming such intense darkness over time. Being a quintet for horn and strings, the horn naturally takes on a prominent role, which Howarth filled with care and the utmost musicality. Everyone on stage had a chance to shine, with cellist Miriam Bolkosky opening the second movement with a pathos-filled and heart-wrenching solo expertly played and the two violinists Yumi Okada and Zemas Hsu blending well with one another in dedicated two violin passages. Violist Norika Futagami had significantly less solo material than the others, but in the second movement when she did, her tone sailed above the textures and drew the audience in for her limited exposure. The quartet could pass for a ten-year running formed ensemble, with Howarth as invited guest. The composition itself, however, did leave a little to be desired; Previn rambled through the sectional and sometimes overpacked movements, particularly the third which felt like stream of consciousness in the worst possible manner. Despite some shoring up required for the material itself, the players performed it to such a high level that they overcame most of the compositional shortcomings.
After a break, bassoonist Adrian Morejon, along with Okada, Bolkosky, and Bob, dug into the intensity of Jennifer Higdon’s Dark Wood, an aggressive and jagged yet still humorous quirky piece for piano trio with bassoon. Morejon truly gave a standout performance, the intruder in the established piano trio, but his part filled in the missing viola to make the work feel like a piano quartet rather than trio with soloist. It was truly a sight and sound to behold. Like the standard trio, everyone got a turn to the lead in the counterpoint (this reviewer hesitates to say “melody” as it does a disservice to Higdon’s intricate writing), leaving everyone something to do. Bob got some material inside the piano, muting the strings to become quasi-percussion which added a new color to the quartet. Okada and Bolkosky both also took turns at the wheel, leading the way through intricacies with assuredness and precision. It felt like watching a well-oiled machine turning and churning while each individual voice both stayed active yet part of a larger ensemble. Dark Wood provided quite a treat.
The full winds of Radius ended the night with former Imani Winds horn Jeffrey Scott’s arrangement of several Piazzolla tangoes for wind quintet. Piazzolla tangoes are excellent dance tunes that remain popular in many forms with audiences and performers alike, but the wind quintet setting serves them admirably, as the five colors highlight different melodies and accompaniments in many varied ways, due in no small part to Scott’s deep knowledge of the genre and top-notch arranging abilities. Flutist Sarah Brady, oboist Jennifer Montbach, clarinetist Eran Egozy, hornist Howarth, and bassoonist Morejon all clearly understood their shifting roles. The agility and delicacy and ensemble precision, especially considering they are not a full-time body, bests the interpretations of some standing groups I have heard. Egozy deserves some extended notice. His solo in the last dance (the immortal Libertango) highlighted a keen understanding of how to play bright and edgy yet controlled on the clarinet, and he often turned heads at other moments.
Radius Ensemble continues its long-standing tradition of wowing with each new concert, highlighting personal artistic expression this time around. They gave us another one for the books: Top-shelf performances from undeniably excellent performers. I can say I am looking forward to what they have next.
Ian Wiese is a graduate student in composition at NEC, where he studies with Kati Agocs.