ICE fires up new music in adventurous concert
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As names go, International Contemporary Ensemble dryly describes this new music group based out of Chicago and New York and completely misrepresents it. You'd hardly be faulted for assuming ICE, as it is known, is an elitist and pretentious organization. But its performance Saturday night, opening the University of Pittsburgh's Music on the Edge series, said otherwise. The sold-out affair in the hip environs of The Andy Warhol Museum brimmed with humor, casual demeanor and entertainment -- a far cry from the stuffy, academic flavor that dominated new-music groups of past decades. ICE even managed to find a light-hearted Elliot Carter piece.
This concert was geared to the audience's enjoyment, not the mythical pursuit of the future progress of music. Even when the four performers opened with a difficult work built on a nearly absurd grouping of instruments -- Edgar Guzman's "Coincidences?" for guitar, bass flute, bass clarinet, percussion and tape -- the music served the patrons. This collection of partial recordings, sketches and musical odds and ends the composer threw together like found art had as much electronic noise and distortion as a Sonic Youth album. But it acted as a musical palate cleanser, shaking us from the rudimentary activities of the day and setting our minds for adventurous music. We used to call this sort of thing an overture, and I suppose it was a noisy version of one, but that just shows further that ICE isn't afraid to invoke a tradition if it helps to engage the audience.
Saturday's four performers are only a subset of the entire collective of about 20 freelance musicians that make up ICE. Looking at flutist Claire Chase, clarinetist Joshua Rubin, guitarist Daniel Lippel and percussionist David Schotzko was like looking at classical music's future, in which most musicians may be free agents doing more of what they want on stage and taking a larger role in it.
For all the international scope of the group's repertoire, the piece that stood out for me was Pitt composer Amy Williams' "Cineshape 1." I haven't liked every piece in her series of works inspired by art films, but this one, loosely based on the epic Korean film "Chunhyang," was a brilliant imagining of the narrative pansori music of the movie. Here, the singer and single drummer of this traditional music were transformed into flute and bass drum. The catch here was that Williams didn't use any quotes from the film or even from pansori song. I wouldn't call this exoticism -- all the rage in Debussy's time but disparaged later as ethnocentric -- but a creative response in a composer triggered by something else. Schotzko's methodical striking of the bass drum with sticks (rute), mallet and hand in almost ostinato fashion punctuated the singing phrases of Chase. These built in emotion as the piece progressed, telling its own story in dramatic, exquisite and nuanced terms.
Schotzko may be the most maddeningly talented percussionist I have heard. In works such as Philippe Manoury's "Last" for bass clarinet and marimba, he was able to fly over the wooden keys with two mallets in each hand while looking as calm as if he were watching TV. This work, another for a bizarre combination of instruments, had him playing blisteringly fast and complicated runs, figures and chords, which he did with remarkable grace and precision. Many percussionists treat the marimba as a bunch of tuned drums, but to Schotzko it was clearly a piano.
Carter's "Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux" for flute and clarinet was written for Pierre Boulez's 60th birthday and had funny bouts in which the two instruments seemed to be talking quickly over each other. But the work that most expressed the emotion of the composer was Magnus Lindberg's "Linea d'Ombra." Written for flute, clarinet, guitar and percussion, it revealed his joy at finally leaving school (the Sibelius Academy in Finland), in turns with ebullient music and cathartic screams and ending with playing on a metal washtub. A perfect way to end this concert in which fun trumped academic rigor.
First Published January 11, 2010 12:00 am