Heads Bob In Warner
In a time when “contemporary” music means a searing set of experimental metal or a socially conscious weekend of hip-hop, the Contemporary Music Ensemble performances in Warner often prove confounding to the untrained ear. Last Friday was no exception, as the CME performed three pieces from within the last twenty-two years. Under the direction of Timothy Weiss, the CME pulled off a performance that skipped from the foreboding to the triumphant like a Lost Highway heartbeat, and that included Oberlin’s second American premiere of the season.
The ensemble began on a strong note with Magnus Lindberg’s Corrente (1992). Appropriately, “Corrente” not only signifies the Baroque dance form slightly traceable in Lindberg’s composition, but also means “current” and “running” in Italian. The piece was not as far-reaching as many played by the CME. Yet, Corrente remained as contemporary as any ear-twister, to the point where a few audience heads bobbed enthusiastically.
The program notes indicate that the Corrente has “an idea of motion and constant activity” at its core, although it seemed more like running on a treadmill than frantically moving through the rich sound-scapes that unfold. Like the sensation after stepping off a treadmill, the piece leaves you feeling heady and accomplished, even though you’re not moving anymore and never really were to begin with.
The ensemble moved into Mel Powell’s Modules (1985), a piece that paid homage to Powell’s status as “a singular phenomenon in the world of American music.” This piece followed similar themes as those explored in Corrente, presenting packets of sound vaguely reminiscent of each other. Powell’s experience as a jazz pianist came through as the CME effectively conveyed a jazz-like dialogue. Though it was well wrought and allowed for significant contemplation of each new presentation of sound, this veritable ancient could not match the frenzy of the first piece. Perhaps audience members were merely contemplating deeply, but it seemed more like they were bobbing their heads for a different reason.
The last and banner piece of the evening, Wolfgang Rihm’s Gejagte Form (1995-2002) proved every bit as exciting as its billing, even trotting out the electric bass guitarist. In its American premiere, Gejagte Form continued the theme of exploring variations on a set of sounds. Composed over a period of seven years, the piece truly delves into the deconstruction of sound arrangement. Though the piece literally translates as “Hunted Form,” Rihm calls it “Form, Pursued.”
He considers the piece to be about “forms in hot pursuit.” He could not be more accurate in describing his thoroughly contemporary music. From the opening violin duet, the piece was in passionate pursuit of itself. The incredible assortment of instruments fluttered ecstatically in and out of the piece’s strong urgency. The keening strings caterwauled at the stringent woodwinds and the bombastic percussion. From the high trills of the flute to the dramatic pause Weiss took at the end of the piece, Gejagte Form was more than a tour de force, it was a passionate exploration of sound.
The night was marked by its brevity, perhaps twenty minutes shorter than most CME concerts. However, the range of exploration accomplished in such a span proved that the essence of the contemporary lies not in the connection the listener brings to the concert, but in the new ways one can realize the possible heights and depths of music.