Bang on a Can All-Stars
The Bang on a Can All-Stars, who performed Wednesday at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Center, are not the primitives their name might make you expect. They are six sophisticated and highly skilled young musicians who compose and perform music that has not yet won favor with mainstream classical audiences.
Their instrumentation does not fall into standard classical categories like a string quartet or piano trio; it comprises clarinets, cello, piano and keyboards, electric guitar, percussion and double bass. It is not of much use for playing Beethoven or even Stravinsky, but it is excellent for what this group does best: generating fascinating sound textures that hover in the air like a musical impression of a Jackson Pollock painting, slowly revealing one facet after another until they come to an abrupt halt.
The influence of Philip Glass is sometimes evident in All-Stars work, and Glass was with them after intermission to perform several of his own works. He soloed in three fascinating piano etudes that evolved gradually from simple ostinato patterns into more complex textures and melodic statements. He shifted to a synthesizer and was joined by the ensemble for "Music in Similar Motion"; the All-Stars played his "Music in Fifths" with the reverence appropriate for a classic; and everyone joined in the encore, "Closing," a solemnly expressive piece that made the strongest impression of the evening.
In the first half of the program, the group played its own music.
The clever "Cheating, Lying, Stealing," by David Lang, uses a lot of metallic percussion to look at what the composer calls "something dark . . . the dirty seams in music." Clarinetist Evan Ziporyn's "Dalam & Shagut," a four-movement suite inspired by Balinese shadow puppets, had a particularly haunting slow movement titled "Ocean," and Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal's "Arapua," arranged for the group by Ziporyn, had rhythmic vitality as well as fascinating textures.
-- Joseph McLellan
Music From Marlboro
The Freer Gallery's Music From Marlboro series can usually be counted on for a heady mix of adrenaline, youthful enthusiasm and world-class technique. But Wednesday's recital went beyond the usual.
Five young Marlboro-trained musicians -- violinists Colin Jacobsen and Ida Levin, violist Maurycy Banaszek, cellist Yumi Kendall and pianist Jeremy Denk -- tore into Franck's F Minor Quintet for Piano and Strings with the kind of passion that made you half expect to see their instruments burst into flames. The first and third movements were informed by trenchant attacks and widely fluctuating dynamics, with the coiled tension created by the ensemble never letting up for a second. The middle movement, too, was febrile, but the strings' full-throated tone and seamless legato served the composer's lyricism well. Fortunately, this music can take such a white-hot approach -- indeed, it positively thrives on it. It's hard to imagine another performance of the Franck topping this one for sheer thrills.
The program began with a buoyant performance of Mozart's E-flat Piano Quartet -- the strings blending euphoniously, and dancing with charm and tenderness above Denk's crystal-clear, brightly projected piano line -- and continued with Leon Kirchner's Duo for Violin and Piano. Levin and Denk (who premiered the Duo in 2001) played it with commanding virtuosity and an obvious relish for its hyperactive, category-defying blend of romanticism, impressionism and the avant-garde.
-- Joe Banno