Verge Ensemble plays music of Morton Subotnick at U-Md.

April 22, 2012

A concert by the Verge Ensemble at the University of Maryland’s Gildenhorn Recital Hall wrapped up the university music department’s Morton Subotnick mini-festival on Saturday evening. Where only a lonely synthesizer and a laptop had graced the stage for Wednesday’s concert of Subotnick’s earlier music, this stage was full of stuff — two pianos, a marimba, a xylophone and a vibraphone; chairs and stands for string players; and, of course, a small computer desk. Wires, to be attached to the strings and the percussion, hung in wait from the music stands: Subotnick may have moved on, but the electronic massaging of all his sound sources is still at the core of almost everything he does.

The cautionary “almost” is because inserted into this program of music from the 1980s was a new piece for piano unencumbered by wires. It’s currently called “After Scarlatti: Etude No. 1,” which Subotnick says is just a convenient temporary title for a work that eventually will be about twice as long and will be called “Falling Leaves.” Its relentless momentum and its focus on textures, concise pitch spectrums and quirky accents place it unmistakably as a Subotnick offspring, but there’s a lightness about it that sets it apart. Pianist Jenny Lin learned it in only 2½ weeks but played it with remarkable clarity, evenness of touch and assurance.

William Brent manipulated the computer “ghost voice” in performances of “Axolotl,” with Steven Honigberg as the solo cellist, and “A Fluttering of Wings” for string quartet, sometimes distorting — “fluttering” — the string sound, sometimes lurking beneath it with “ghostly” human-sounding noises and sometimes mimicking it almost mockingly.

“The Key to Song” for percussion, two pianos, cello, viola and computer, with its spurts of high-energy eruptions that overwhelmed broad fragments of Schubert songs sung by the strings, and with its more subtly manipulated instrumental sounds, got a large-scale, confident reading by the Verge folks, joined by several U-Md. students.

— Joan Reinthaler


Pianist Jenny Lin learned “After Scarlatti: Etude No. 1” in only 2 ½ weeks, but played it with remarkable clarity, evenness of touch and assurance. (Courtesy of Latitude 45 Arts)

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