Mobtown Modern Presents 'Sequenzas' at Baltimore's Contemporary Museum

Thursday, March 5, 2009; 11:34 AM

The new music adventurers of the Mobtown Modern series presented a nearly complete performance of Luciano Berio's "Sequenzas" on Tuesday night at Baltimore's Contemporary Museum. The frequency of opportunities to hear all of these modern etudes for solo instruments in one sitting is likely in perfect proportion to the endurance of listeners. Even without Sequenzas IV (piano) and XII (bassoon), the music heard in this three-hour concert pushes each performer out of his comfort zone and leaves the listener wondering if the instrument was really meant to make that sound.

The "Sequenzas" require an ideally balanced ensemble of superlatively talented soloists. While Mobtown Modern's lineup was not exactly that, there were many excellent performances, from soprano Julieanne Klein's flirtatiously manic scena in Sequenza III to the coolly virtuosic stream of notes in violinist Gabriela Diaz's Sequenza VIII. Particular high points were hit by oboist Emily Madsen in the "formal study on repetition" of Sequenza VIIa, with the held note (the score specifies it can be played "by any other instrument" offstage) bleated mercilessly by an electronic tuner, a wry reference to the oboe's role in tuning the orchestra, as well as by saxophonist and series co-curator Brian Sacawa (Sequenza IXb) and accordionist Lidia Kaminska (Sequenza XIII).

Recordings of the "Sequenzas" may have better all-around performances, but many of the unexpected polyphonic effects Berio calls for, sonically fragile overtones, are best appreciated live, akin to seeing a blue morpho in the Brazilian forest as opposed to mounted in a museum display case. It was a shame not to have a piano on hand, which left large, silent lacunae in Sequenza X, where the trumpet is supposed to trigger overtone resonances in an otherwise silent piano.

-- Charles T. Downey

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