Verge Ensemble, “Modern Mystics”

Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Jan. 26, 2014

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In the opening program of its 40th anniversary season, the Verge Ensemble, the performance group of the Contemporary Music Forum, presented 90 minutes of distinctive contemporary classical music with commentary. While the program included five short computer-generated pieces by Paul Rudy including “November Sycamore Leaf,” (2006) which is paired with a video, the late afternoon program belonged to Mark Winges’ “Shapeshifter,” a composition for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, and cello that was commissioned by the Verge Ensemble. Winges was present to introduce the composition and answer questions later.

“Shapeshifter” is quirky in character but tonal and full-bodied given the range of acoustic instruments that included standard and bass clarinets and standard and alto flutes. The 12-minute composition has interesting rhythm and a je-ne-sais-quoi that does not match the San Francisco-based composer’s list of influencers like George Crumb, Mozart, Beethoven and other familiar composers of the past.

Other compositions by other composers leading up to the Winges finale included Mohammed Fairouz’s mysterious three-movement “Ka-Las,” (2009) for clarinet and viola, John Luther Adams subtle string-whistling homage to a departed friend “High Places,” (2011) for violin, and Gareth Farr’s three-movement aspects of Asia “Kembang Suling,” (1996) for flute and marimba. Interspersed between these acoustic instrumental pieces were Paul Rudy’s vibrationally colorful electronic “The Four Directions” (2012)—“East: Wind,” “South: Fire,” “West: Water,” and “North: Earth.”

Rudy said in an interview with this reviewer that he “tailored some of them for the concert, to fit with the pieces around them. So, these particular ‘direction’ invocations were premiered yesterday [at the Verge concert].” For example, “East: Wind” with sounds of wind, wind chimes, humming, and possibly something ‘breathing,’ complemented the carefully played (Lina Bahn gave an outstanding performance) “High Places,” that evokes, more than states, ‘place.’ Rudy further explained, “In ‘East’ there is a hymn sung by The Cheyenne Singers (Jesus he’ama tsehoo’éstse, from Tsese-Ma’heone-Nemeototse: Cheyenne Spiritual Songs). I used this (by permission) in a track called “Sand Creek,” (No. 5, CD #2 Kuxan suum). That track honors the Sand Creek massacre, but more importantly the healing runs that the Cheyenne and Araphaho people have done since then (in the 90’s and 00’s) to heal the land in that place of tragedy.”

Kudos to the Verge Ensemble—musicians Lina Bahn, violin; David Jones, clarinet; Jonathan Richards, viola; William Richards, percussion; Tobias Werner, cello; David Whiteside, flute; and Lewis Krauthamer, concert master—for an outstanding program of memorable compositions and fluid programming that spoke well to the “Modern Mystics” title.




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