Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The New York Phil Goes Miller Theatre

To delve into contemporary classical music for a moment here, I was intrigued by Anthony Tommasini's review of the New York Philharmonic's first Contact! concert at Symphony Space. In many ways, the set-up of the concert reminded me of Miller Theatre, since the venue is of about the same size and interviews with the composers were emphasized.

All-in-all, Tommasini indicates that it was a well-received concert:
Listeners of all ages, including lots of eager-looking young people, filled the hall. Audience members chatted animatedly during intermission, swapping reactions to the first two pieces.
After Tommasini knocks composer and conductor Magnus Lindberg for his interviewing skills when it came to his talk with composer Marc-Andre Dalbavie -- go ahead, Tony, say it, "He's no George Steel, but..." -- he praised Dalbavie's piece in no uncertain terms:
Still, the music was mesmerizing. Mr. Dalbavie has an acute ear for lush colorings and pungent, post-tonal harmonies. This pensive work evolves in fragments and gestures, with strands of chantlike melody interspersed with sustained sonorities and tremulous colorings. In one unexpected, exhilarating outburst, the instruments break into a kind of free-for-all toccata.
And then he concludes the review with a great description of Arthur Kampela and his music.

I've known Arthur Kampela mostly as a Miller Theatre patron (where he often would be dragging his young son to hear contemporary classical concerts). I always found him an engaged listener and a pleasant patron of the theatre. I knew he was a composer (and had heard rumors of his rocking out on guitar), but I think I've only ever heard one of his pieces of music and a brief one at that.

For this concert, Tommasini recounts,
Arthur Kampela, a Brazilian-born New Yorker and a gregarious talker, was a hit with the audience as he explained that his piece, “MacunaĆ­ma,” was inspired by a 1928 novel that follows the exploits of a fantastic young man, loosely based on Amazonian folklore. The character, born black with the capacity to turn white, winds up a mystical entity, a “constellation of pleasure,” as Mr. Kampela put it.

The piece came across as a restless, wildly colorful but rather messy romp. Imagine a makeshift work by a Brazilian Ives. At the start, half a dozen players with colorful hand drums walked slowly up the aisles in the hall and joined the ensemble onstage. Soon everyone broke into a rowdy din of frenetic rhythms and every-which-way riffs. At one point some players went behind a curtain, where you heard them playing bits of marching-band music and laughing.

There may be a real piece in “MacunaĆ­ma” somewhere. I would like to hear it again. It was certainly fun for the players, who were good sports, and for the audience, which whooped during the ovation.

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