Music review: ‘Taught the Band to Play’ captures the magic of the Beatles

September 22, 2013

The Great Noise Ensemble has found a new home in H Street’s Atlas Performing Arts Center, and there couldn’t be a happier collaboration. Both are adventurous, imaginative and fiercely committed, and the center is smack in the middle of one of the most vibrantly developing neighborhoods in the city (although, on Saturday, construction and police roadblocks made it almost impossible to get there).

The ensemble celebrated this partnership Saturday with the premiere of the “Taught the Band to Play: The Sgt. Pepper Project” — the baby, over the past three years, of GNE conductor and music director Armando Bayolo, who commissioned 12 composers to write pieces inspired by some aspect of one of the 13 songs on the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. Presented as a single work, the pieces were played in the order that their prototypes appeared in the original album, the intermission coming where the LP was flipped. Patrick McMinn provided live electronic interludes between the pieces that set the stage magically for each change of mood, and he ended the evening with crashing, high-voltage cacophony that outdid the album’s “A Day in the Life.”

Augmented by 14 guest performers, the Ensemble fielded at least one of every regular orchestral instrument (and a sax and guitar) for the occasion, and players came and went as the instrumentations changed. Some pieces explored ideas — Daniel Felsenfeld’s “The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes” with its heavy trombone intervals over a jangly background played on the LSD implications in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” — and some, like Ryan Brown’s “Rita Made Meter,” a take on “Lovely Rita,” were easily identifiable variations. Most compelling, however, was what Bayolo (in his role as composer) did with “Alap,” a lovely musing on the Indian-inspired textures and harmonies of George Harrison’s “Within You Without You.” With just five players and an electronic drone that played through the entire intermission and seeped into consciousness as a scene-setter only after the music began, the piece captured the essence of the Beatles’ magic.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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