Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Steven Schick and red fish blue fish

The National Gallery of Art's East Building atrium normally echoes only with the chatter and footfalls of the gallery's visitors, but on Sunday night, the world premiere performance of Roger Reynolds's "Sanctuary" filled it with waves of gorgeous, purposeful, minutely detailed sound. Though percussionists created all the initial sounds in "Sanctuary," computers electronically manipulated those sounds and distributed them to various speakers, calibrated for the atrium's acoustic characteristics. Surrounded by speakers, the audience sat on the mezzanine and bridge of the atrium as well as its ground floor, for a once-in-a-lifetime aural experience.

In an illuminating pre-concert lecture, Reynolds described "Sanctuary" as "a kind of history of utterance." Solo percussionist Steven Schick, with whom Reynolds initially conceived the work, explored basic rhythmic patterns in the first movement, "Chatter/Clatter," affixing coins wired with microphones to his fingertips to strike objects, including a 15-year-old Glenfiddich whiskey bottle, which had sonorities that ranged widely. The electronic processing occasionally intervened to transform the patterns into silvery ringing shards of sound or whirlwinds of plunks and plonks.

The succeeding two movements added complexity. In the second, called "Oracle," members of the red fish blue fish percussion ensemble (Justin DeHart, Ross Karre, Fabio Oliveira and Greg Stuart) took turns playing the title instrument, the canister of a washing machine with rods welded on to provide for additional sounds; its utterances drove the consideration and reconsideration of one long rhythmic line.

The finale, "Song," introduced pitched instruments and thus rudimentary melody and harmony (you didn't walk out of this concert whistling a tune) that nevertheless felt revelatory -- the culmination of a process of questioning and development that, in this exemplary realization of the score, sounded strange and remote but also, somehow, universal and timeless.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

The Swell Season

When the Swell Season -- essentially Frames frontman Glen Hansard and Czech songstress Mark¿ta Irglov¿ -- played U Street's beautiful Lincoln Theatre last December, they nearly upstaged headliner Damien Rice. Returning to the Lincoln on Sunday night, the Swell Season were deservedly the main attraction, riding a wave from the sleeper hit movie "Once," wherein Hansard and Irglov¿ basically play less famous versions of themselves, falling in love (kind of) as they wander Dublin composing songs together.

The movie and the duo's songs share a bittersweet hue, but Sunday's concert was purely celebratory. Performing in various configurations -- Hansard solo, Hansard/Irglov¿ duo, and as a five-piece with cellist Bertrand Galen, violinist Marja Tuhkanen and Frames fiddler Colm MacConlomaire -- the ensemble conjured up forceful yet intimate readings of songs from the Swell Season's sole album and the "Once" soundtrack, Frames favorites and well-chosen covers of songs by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and, um, Michelle Shocked. (Don't snicker. The rave-up of Shocked's "Fogtown" that closed the main set was one of the evening's highlights.) But the lovesick ballads featured prominently in "Once" -- "Falling Slowly," "When Your Mind's Made Up" and the title track -- drew the biggest cheers from a rapt audience that mostly stayed quiet enough during the performances to let these haunting, fragile ballads resonate.

Onstage as on-screen, Hansard and Irglov¿'s chemistry is palpable. Truly, theirs is a match made in heaven. Okay, Ireland. On this night, it was close enough.

-- Chris Klimek

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