Minimalist music of A Winged Victory for the Sullen is played to maximum effect


The American Contemporary Music Ensemble: from left, Ben Russell, violin; Nadia Sirota; viola; Chris Thompson, percussion; Clarice Jensen, cello; Caroline Shaw, violin; Timothy Andres, piano; Caleb Burhans, violin. (Ryuhei Shindo)
March 20

Minimalist music isn’t for every taste. The endlessly repeated phrases, the static harmonies, the general sense of cud-chewing — it can all drive the thinking ear crazy. But when it works, it can be close to exalting, as A Winged Victory for the Sullen (a collaboration between composers Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie) showed in a fascinating and often luminous performance at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Wednesday night.

That’s not to say it was an upbeat evening. Opening with “A Symphony Pathetique” from their debut album, O’Halloran (a pianist best known for his score to the film “Marie Antoinette”) and Wiltzie (on keyboard and guitar) were joined by string players from the American Contemporary Music Ensemble and delivered a seamless flow of slow, meditative music throughout the evening, weaving simple musical gestures into pulsing, multilayered clouds of sound that seemed to float — almost weightlessly — over a base of low-pitched drones.

The effect was striking, as if it were the music of some distant celestial orchestra, unfolding with stately and impassive and elemental force. And virtually every work on the program — from the gorgeous “We Played Some Open Chords and Rejoiced” and “Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears” to five pieces from their new project “Atomos” and a reworking of Michael Nyman’s first string quartet — evoked that same sense of gravity and simplicity. This was minimalism in skillful hands.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble

March 19 • 8 p.m., Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

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