After Wednesday’s rollicking opener, it was time to quiet things down a bit. The second night of MusicNOW was a joint effort with local chamber ensemble concert:nova, made up primarily of members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra [View photos here]. The Woodward Theater had a seated configuration, and the audience didn’t skew quite as young as the previous evening. The program, also presented Wednesday in Oxford in shortened form, opened with “Quintet for Trumpet and Electronics” by Miami University professor Per Bloland. Trumpeter Douglas Lindsay performed the piece from the stage left balcony, the vortex of notes darting through the electronic noise generated by looping and pitch shifting software. Next, a cello, piano, and clarinet trio performed “Five Possibilities” by Daniel Bjarnason, whose “Collider” will see its world premiere with the Symphony on Saturday. The piece’s chaotic first movement gave way to beautiful and playful interludes, and the unamplified ensemble made for a perfect demonstration of The Woodward’s fine acoustics.
Jeffrey Zeigler then took the stage alone with his cello. Zeigler, formerly of the peerless Kronos Quartet, kept the audience enraptured through his 40 minute set, drawing heavily on last year’s solo debut Something of Life. Joined only by prerecorded accompaniment, Zeigler made expert use of a number of effects pedals and the same software used earlier during the Bloland piece. The result found him harmonizing with sonar blips, flocking birds, and cricket chirp oscillations. Derek Charke’s “Tangled in Plastic Currents” received its U.S. premiere, and he performed Paola Prestini’s “Mourning” with video projections. Before closing the set with John Zorn’s intricate “Babel: The Confusion of Tongues,” he related a Mario Andretti quote the composer applied to the piece: “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” He managed a perfect balance between the two.
After an intermission, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw performed her suite “By and By” with concert:nova’s string quartet. It is the spiritual ancestor to Bryce Dessner’s “Murder Ballades,” performed at last year’s festival, each featuring arrangements of folk and gospel songs with their melodies bent beyond immediate recognition. Unlike “Ballades,” though, Shaw’s is a vocal piece, and she took to the stage to perform them herself. Her strong alto wrapped around “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?” as the violinists and violist lightly strummed their instruments, which also evoked creaking gates and were used to knock out hollow resonant rhythms over the course of the piece. When she belted out the chorus of “I’ll Fly Away,” the strings rose up to meet her, a moment of exhilarating musical joy. The crowd awarded a standing ovation to the highlight of the evening.
Composer and Arcade Fire member Richard Reed Parry was on hand to present “Interruptions,” a nonet from his series (and album) of Music for Heart and Breath. Each musician wears a stethoscope and either plays at the tempo of his or her heartbeat or breathing rate. Naturally, no piece will never be played quite the same way twice. The resulting parts never quite line up, but overlap and harmonize, and the effect is mesmerizing. Parry and Dessner joined the group on acoustic guitar, and Parry even took a turn on the double bass for one of the movements.
Dessner’s own string quartet “Little Blue Something” came next. He wrote the piece three years ago as a tribute to Czech folk musicians Vojtech and Irena Havel, who made their U.S. concert debut at the 2007 edition of the festival. The piece was originally premiered by Kronos Quartet and featured on Dessner’s record Aheym. The churning cello formed a foundation under glassy violin harmonics and spooky European melodies, and the viola often sang out above the rest of the quartet. Zeigler came back to the stage with the ensemble to perform neo-baroque composer Olli Mustonen’s “Nonetto II,” and it was the perfect close to the evening. Cellist Theodore Nelson led the group through quiet, delicate sections before the final vivacissimo movement raced to a fevered, cheery climax.
After a long round of applause, some of the crowd retired across the street to MOTR Pub for the official aftershow with The Penny Serfs. The Iowa quartet knocked out 35 minutes of jangly rock, including most of their recent EP Like Eating Glass. “Dead Love” and “I’m On Fire” joined Michael Loy’s dry lyrics and deliver with Kinksian pop hooks and noisy guitar freakouts. Nico Muhly sipped a beer with National lead singer Matt Berninger in a corner by the jukebox while Richard Reed Parry ate takeout by the front door. Just your typical evening at MusicNOW. Next stop: tomorrow night, Music Hall.
concert:nova program (first half):
Quintet for Trumpet and Electronics (Per Bloland)
Five Possibilities (Daniel Bjarnason)
Glaub (Felipa Perez Santiago)
Tangled in Plastic Currents (Derek Charke)
Mourning (Paola Prestini)
Babel: The Confusion of Tongues (John Zorn)
concert:nova program (second half):
By and By (Caroline Shaw)
Interruptions: Heart and Breath Nonet (Richard Reed Parry)
Little Blue Something (Bryce Dessner)
Nonetto II (Olli Mustonen)
The Penny Serfs setlist:
Hot and Cold
I’m On Fire
Youth in Revolt