International Contemporary Ensemble vividly showcases distinct styles of Lara and Balter


International Contemporary Ensemble. (Armen Elliott)
April 7, 2014

Felipe Lara and Marcos Balter, the two composers featured by the International Contemporary Ensemble on their Phillips Collection program on Sunday, share a great deal. They are roughly contemporaries, born in Brazil in the 1970s. They studied and currently reside in this country, have close working relationships with a number of contemporary music ensembles and, judging from the music on this program, have developed distinctive styles.

Lara’s two pieces, “Livro dos Sonhos” (“Book of Dreams”) for clarinet and piano and “Voz dos Ventos” (a world premier) for amplified flute, clarinet and bassoon. exude energy. The instruments spar, interrupt and mirror each other and, at times, come together in mutual agreement. There are shrieks and slides, hissing, flutter-tonguing and almost percussive sounds that stretch the limits of instrumental possibilities. But throughout all this, Lara manages an internal architectural logic that shapes a curve from beginning to end. Clarinetist Joshua Rubin and pianist Cory Smythe bounced off each other with exquisite timing in “Livros” and in “Voz” the trio, Rubin (playing in the back of the hall), flutist Claire Chase and bassoonist Rebekah Heller surrounded the audience with the ghostly sounds of wind and a gathering storm.

Balter’s music evolves slowly, creating vivid emotional contexts and inviting the listener to savor sounds. Chase gave stunning, intensity-infused readings of “Pessoa,” for bass flute and digital accompaniment, and “alone,” for flute and percussion. And Heller was a one-woman-band in “. . . and also a fountain . . .” for bassoon, percussion and reverb, dealing with the wood blocks, the bassoon and the reverb pick-up, all without breaking a sweat.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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