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eighth blackbird confronts composer Amy Beth Kirsten’s commedia dell’arte demons


eighth blackbird: Heart and Breath, MCA Chicago. September 12, 2014. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Chicago’s multi-grammy-award-winning new music sextet eighth blackbird stretched the boundaries of musical performance practice once again in their presentation of composer Amy Beth Kirsten’s commedia dell’arte dreamscape Colombine’s Paradise Theatre. The centerpiece of a concert titled “Heart and Breath” at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago on September 12, 2014, the ‘birds performance was both heart-arresting and breathtaking. 

For this project, nearly two years in the making, Kirsten borrowed from the classic 16th and 17th century Italian art form and adapted Isabella Andreini poetry from 1601. Mining both her early work as a singer and songwriter and her more recent focus on contemporary composition, she has crafted music that commands a visceral commitment from the ‘birds beyond simply playing their instruments with every virtuosic technique in their substantial reservoir. This work requires them to fearlessly extend their musicality into singing, mannered speaking (even breathing), acting, and precisely choreographed movement about the stage, often in costumes and masks. In choosing the characters for her commedia, Kirsten professed a life-long fascination with the iconic love triangle of Colombine, Harlequin, and Pierrot. They captured her fancy and haunted her dreams as a child, as if Jungian archetypes of good and evil, darkness and light. Colombine is Kirsten’s childhood dream-world doppelgänger, with Pierrot drawing her towards Apollonian enlightenment, while Harlequin tempts her towards Dionysian darkness and carnality.


Michael Maccaferri, Tim Munro, and Yvonne Lam of eighth blackbird in Heart and Breath, MCA Chicago. September 12, 2014. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

From the opening section, captioned “death sweet breath,” we know the players are inhabiting that porous border region between awake and dreaming. Structures at the edges of the stage are draped in diaphanous sheets of cloth in Harlequin’s signature pattern. The lights come up to find Colombine (pianist Lisa Kaplan) collapsed and asleep in a heap on the floor. Spectral figures lurk about the edges of the scene. Colombine awakes to her dream with a start, and repeatedly sighs a loud “Oh!” followed by deep audible breaths. Harbinger (cellist Nicholas Photinos) enters and plays a cello solo, setting the scene. The three-bodied Harlequin (flutist Tim Munro, violinist/violist Yvonne Lam, and clarinetist Michael Maccaferri) enters, ritually donning their costumes and masks to play their parts in the dream, and join in the musical thread begun by Harbinger. Munro take the Harlequin lead playing an idyll of seduction on his flute while simultaneously singing “…I alone can know my Colombine again. Let me eat her Reason: let me swallow every light that blinds her…” Meanwhile, at the edge of Colombine’s consciousness, Pierrot (percussionist Matthew Duvall) has entered and pulled one of the set drapes to reveal a cornucopia of instruments, representing the vast wealth of knowledge he can impart. Colombine intently listens to Pierrot’s rhythmic playing, trying to resist Harlequin’s charms. 

In the second section, Pierrot hangs the moon for Colombine, in the form of a glowing bass drum, to brighten her dark dreamscape. But she resists his influence, and sings “my charming murderer,” remembering Harlequin: “…a delirium more handsome than ever turns his gaze on me…” The highlight of the third section is a frantic piano duet featuring Harlequin (with Yvonne Lam in that guise) as a puppet master to Colombine, forcing her to revel in a carnal keyboard fantasy. The fourth section features an exhausted Pierrot crawling across the stage, drumming the floor and other implements being carried along for him.  


Tim Munro as Harlequin and Matt Duvall as Pierrot vie for the attention of Lisa Kaplan’s Colombine. Photo credit: eighth blackbird

In the finale, captioned “she comes undone,” the characters ritually doff their costumes for the final time, dropping them at their feet as if their characters have now vanished. Next, they pull down the all the set draping, leaving a bare unadorned stage. All but Colombine and Harbinger exit, and they play a final piano and cello duet. The artifice and Colombine’s dream are over. She returns to the waking world knowing that her dreamworld companions are sure to return. 

The sense of a waking/dreamland netherworld is sustained throughout the work by the repeated use of a sleeping Colombine to start new scenes and the ritual donning and doffing of costumes and masks. In the final analysis, it is impossible to separate the elements of music, performance, stagecraft, and artifice; Colombine’s Paradise Theatre is all of a piece. And that is what makes it such an enthralling experience. None of Kirsten’s creation or the ‘birds performance would be possible without the brilliant stage direction and choreography of Mark DeChiazza, sound design and production by Ryan Ingebritsen, lighting design by Mary Ellen Stebbins, and costume design by Sylvianne Shurman

“Heart and Breath” began with a mashup of old and new music massaged into a convincing four-movement prelude that set the stage musically for Colombine’s Paradise Theatre and prefigured some its thematic material. This prelude consisted of Duo for Heart and Breath (2012) by Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), Lamento della ninfa (1638) by Claudio Monteverdi (arranged by Munro), Moro, lasso, al mio duolo (1611) by Carlo Gesualdo (also arranged by Munro), and Babys (2009) by Bon Iver (arranged by Kaplan). 

“Heart and Breath” was first performed in the fall of 2103 at University of Richmond and at the Atlas theater in Washington, D.C. New Yorkers get their first chance to see and hear this production on Thursday, September 18, 2014, at Miller Theater, Columbia University

Filed under eighth blackbird amy beth kirsten Arlene & Larry Dunn museum of contemorary art chicago Mark DeChiazza Ryan Ingebritsen Mary Ellen Stebbins Colombine's Paradise Theater

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The Urge to Compose … a Traffic Jam Fugue

In the spring of 2014, composer/educator Danny Clay faced a dilemma. He had asked his elementary school music classes in grades 1 through 5 to create their own sound key/music notation systems comprised solely of sound-making objects they could find around the classroom. Each class constructed their own systems and began to compose and play music employing them.


Composer and music educator Danny Clay

Danny was quite impressed with the results, but the kids had reservations. “This is not real music,” some of them complained. “Why is that?” Danny asked. “If this was real music, real composers would be using our notation to write music” was a common reply. So Danny set out to recruit his real composer friends to write real music using his young students’ notation systems. The resulting activity recently spurred Danny to launch Project Object - Netlabel on SoundCloud and on Facebook.

When Danny posted Facebook and Twitter appeals to composers to help  his kid musicians believe in what they were doing, we got pulled into the vortex. We commented on Danny’s posts how much we loved what he and his students were doing. He responded “Why don’t you try it too?” The next thing we know, we had the 2nd-graders’ sound key in hand and instructions form Danny to “let our imaginations run wild!”


Danny Clay’s 2nd-graders’ sound key/notation system

Being industrious sorts, we set about trying to figure out how we could compose music from these elements. Fortunately, our old friend John Cage, whose 100th birthday anniversary inspired this blog in the first place, instigated the thinking that got us going: chance procedures. And before too long, voila! We had created Did you catch the license plate on that fugue?


The title page from our composition score

Our process notes from the score tell the tale pretty well: 

The Journey from Sounds to Music

Composer and elementary school music teacher Danny Clay asked us to compose a piece of music using a sound/notation system invented by his students, for them to play. He sent us his 2nd-graders’ sound key. 

There are 12 musicians in Danny’s 2nd-grade class, organized into four groups of three. We decided to write a fugue, because it would be fun to play and to hear, a four-part invention, where each part is performed by a group of 3 players. We think of each musician like a percussionist, in that each player has the full battery of all six instruments available to him/her. Everyone in the group plays each sound in each cell as directed by the score.

Inspired by our art-hero John Cage, we used chance procedures to develop the fugue. We thought of music needing to deal with sounds (a given, from the 2nd grade sound key), time (by stringing sounds together in a defined order), rhythm, and volume or dynamics So we rolled the dice to: 

  • assign each sound (or note) in the key a sequence number
  • assign and order groups of three notes into four sound “cells” which gave us an ordered progression 12 notes/sounds long, arranged in four cells (or measures) of three notes each
  • determine the dynamics of each sound to be played, either loud or soft.
  • determine for each of the notes, how many times it would be played within the cell, 1, 2, or 4 times (resulting in each cell containing 12 beats). 

We then determined the flow of the first line would consist of playing the four cells in the determined order, then playing the four cells again with the order of notes in each cell reversed, then playing the four cells again in the original order. 

To create the fugue effect, we offset line 2 from line one by shifting one cell to the right and wrapping the last cell of line 1 around to the beginning of line 2. We continued the shifting and wrapping one cell each time to create lines 3 and 4. 

These four lines of music looked like four lanes of traffic, making us think of the cells as cars. That gave rise to the title Did you catch the license plate on that fugue … a Traffic Jam Fugue. As we prepared the individual performance scores for each part, we realized that the fugal structure of the work is not readily apparent. So we decided to portray the full score, all four lines together, using the four toy cars of different colors (assigned by chance) to represent the cells. This enables the performers to visualize the shifting and wrapping structure of the whole piece. 

We hope this composition brings the 2nd Grade Musicians of Zion Lutheran School much fun and enjoyment as they learn to play a piece written in the sound/notation system they themselves invented. 

Arlene and Larry Dunn 

Oberlin, Oho

April 8, 2014

Here, are the other key elements of the score, the matching of car colors to the music cells and the four parts of the fugue, A, B, C, and D. 






All that remained was to hear our work come alive in the hands of the 2nd-grade musicians. And that happened this week when Danny created the Project Object sites and posted our piece for all to hear. 

Danny asked us for our reaction upon hearing the work played for the first time. Here’s what we told him:

Composing Did you catch the license plate on that fugue? - A Traffic Jam Fugue was a thrill ride every step of the way. But nothing could have prepared us for the rush of first hearing it realized in sound by the very 2nd-graders who invented the sound key/notation system we used. The version they have recorded so far is a two-part invention; the four-part invention is yet to come as they continue to work on the score. Nonetheless, their performance somehow subtly soothes with its relatively quiet dynamics, yet almost overwhelms with its complex textures. They play with a free, manic energy and a diligent seriousness of purpose. Perhaps only 2nd-graders could bring such a deep commitment to realizing the possibilities in this score. We can’t wait to hear more.

And apparently  Danny and the kid musicians are enjoying playing this piece as much as we enjoyed making it. 


Thank you notes from Danny and the 2nd-graders

So, without further ado, go listen to the piece on SoundCloud. Enjoy!

Filed under Danny Clay Arlene & Larry Dunn Project Object Netlabel Traffic Jam Fugue

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Rhubarb Lemon Basil Scones
1 cup white flour 1/2 whole wheat flour 1.5 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup sugar Dash of ground nutmeg 6 tablespoon chilled butter, cut into cubed 2/3 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream (today, Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup chopped rhubarb 1 tablespoon sugar 1 teaspoon lemon zest Four large basil leaves, torn
Toss rhubarb, tablespoon of sugar, lemon zest, and basil together, and let macerate while you make the rest of the dough.
Pulse together lightly in a food processed or mix together by hand: flours, baking powder, salt, sugar, and nutmeg. Pulse in or rub together the butter until you get a pebbly floury buttery mixture. Stir in rhubarb mixture and Greek yogurt or sour cream with a spatula or by hand until the dough barely comes together.
Pour out the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet and shape into a large disk with your hands. Cut the disk into wedges and separate slightly for more even baking.
Bake at 450 for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops and bottoms of the scones are golden brown. Eat warm or at room temperature plain or with fresh strawberry preserves.

Mmmmmmmmm, gonna hafta try these!


Rhubarb Lemon Basil Scones

1 cup white flour
1/2 whole wheat flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
Dash of ground nutmeg
6 tablespoon chilled butter, cut into cubed
2/3 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream (today, Greek yogurt)

1/2 cup chopped rhubarb
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Four large basil leaves, torn

Toss rhubarb, tablespoon of sugar, lemon zest, and basil together, and let macerate while you make the rest of the dough.

Pulse together lightly in a food processed or mix together by hand: flours, baking powder, salt, sugar, and nutmeg. Pulse in or rub together the butter until you get a pebbly floury buttery mixture. Stir in rhubarb mixture and Greek yogurt or sour cream with a spatula or by hand until the dough barely comes together.

Pour out the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet and shape into a large disk with your hands. Cut the disk into wedges and separate slightly for more even baking.

Bake at 450 for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops and bottoms of the scones are golden brown. Eat warm or at room temperature plain or with fresh strawberry preserves.

Mmmmmmmmm, gonna hafta try these!

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Trepanning Trio: In Relentless Pursuit of a Sound [re-post]


[This article originally appeared in a somewhat different form in Issue #6 of I CARE IF YOU LISTEN Magazine in April of 2014.]


Cleveland-based Trepanning Trio is not a three-person neurosurgical team that will drill a burr hole into your skull to expose the dura mater. In fact, they are not a trio at all, but a flexible contemporary music ensemble that varies its size to fit the occasion. However, they do indeed make music that drills its way straight into your skull. The brainchild of bassist, composer, and bandleader David Mansbach, Trepanning has crafted its style around a core aesthetic of spontaneous creativity drawing on the deep musical reservoirs of the players. As Mansbach puts it, rather demurely, ”we make pretty instrumental music using classical, traditional, and handmade instruments.” The result is an intoxicating sound alchemy that has germinated over the past twenty years. Mansbach’s passionate quest for this musical soundscape exceeded his capabilities to realize on his own. With the help of other musicians and advancing technology, slowly that sound emerged. And as it evolved, it attracted more musicians who wanted to be a part of it. Today Trepanning Trio has fourteen members who regularly participate in rehearsals, concerts, and recording sessions. 


Trepanning Trio has its genesis in a song Mansbach wrote in 1994. A self-taught musician formally trained in visual arts, Mansbach’s mind teemed with musical ideas he tinkered with using an 8-track recorder. But his musical inadequacies hampered his progress. A breakthrough came in 1998 when violinist Peter Tyson Myers, a co-worker’s son, sought Mansbach’s assistance with his audition tape. In return, Myers offered to help Mansbach multi-track some of his early conceptions. “I couldn’t write out the parts I wanted Peter to play, so I sang, or whistled them, phrase by phrase,” Mansbach recalls. “Fortunately, Ty has a great ear (and a lot of patience) and he played them all back for me on his violin, usually in one take.”


That started Mansbach down a path of realizing his musical conceptions in a very painterly-fashion, constructing the whole from a broad palette of sound materials. By 2001, his Infinite Number of Sounds Recording Company co-founder Brent Gummow, had helped him convert his analog recording setup to a digital recording/editing suite. Mansbach used his new toys to expand the instrumentation and make more complex arrangements. In the early years, Mansbach says “you might hear 20 or more instruments playing on a completed track, but I typically only had three musicians playing the individual parts, hence the name Trepanning Trio.” When this group started making a few live appearances with Mansbach as a quartet, the alliterative Trepanning Trio moniker had already struck a chord, so they stuck with it. Some of these early experimental recordings were released on Trepanning Trio’s first album I am a Crooked Arrow

The first incarnation of the present ensemble came in 2005, when Mansbach, percussionist Ron Tucker (of ensemble et al., and Mansbach’s former partner in the art-rock bands Ribcage Houdinis and Infinite Number of Sounds), percussionist Andrew Ludick, and bbob drake (a master of self-designed musical gadgets) started playing together. It was a very fertile time for development of the Trepanning sound. “We would fill a room with instruments—kidi drums, gankogui, mbira, double bass, vibraphone, pan tree, banjo, dulcimer, water jugs, harmonicas, stem glasses, melodicas—and improvise for hours.” They refined the most interesting ideas, recorded them, and these became the textural underpinnings for over a dozen songs.  


Over the next several years, Mansbach attracted more musicians of diverse backgrounds, like Jeremy Bleich, David Badagnani, Kris Morron, Dan Wenninger, and Clayton Vaughn, to help further explore and develop these sketches with an avalanche of new sounds and ideas. “These folks played some instruments that I had never heard of, much less written for,” says Mansbach. “I scheduled dozens of recording sessions, mixing and matching different combinations of instruments. Some songs had over 100 tracks and I used a subtractive process to whittle each piece down and refine it into the form you hear on our recordings.”

All of this hard work came to the public earspace broadly in February, 2009, with the release of two albums, I am a Crooked Arrow, and The Man Killed the Bird…, on the Infinite Number of Sounds label. Most of the musicians who participated in the recordings, including Ron Tucker (who was in New york), Andy Ludick (who was in Kilkenny, Ireland), and Tyler Horter (from Cincinnati) gathered to perform at the CD release concert at Cleveland’s Beachland Tavern, the first time the completed songs had ever been performed live. That one-off performance took on a life of its own. To Mansbach’s surprise “musicians started contacting me to ask about joining the band. I invited most of them to rehearsals to see how they fit and many of them have become core members of the group.” As the band grew, the new members brought their own unique musical backgrounds, instruments, and ideas, adding further depth and complexities to the Trepanning sound and the compositional possibilities.


So what exactly is that Trepanning Trio sound? It’s complex, enigmatic, and multi-layered, with a meditative vibe. Mostly it lopes along at a casual tempo, in no hurry to get anywhere, leaving plenty of space for subtle nuance to emerge. It is rarely loud, yet it engulfs you. “We’re likely the quietest 14-member ensemble you will ever hear and that is one key to our music,” says Mansbach. 


To our ears, the Trepanning sound combines elements of classical chamber music, post-minimalism, jam-band grooving, free jazz improvisation, Appalachian folk tunes, North African and Middle Eastern modal drones, influences of China, India, and Southeast Asia, and no doubt other forms and traditions we do not recognize. And that is another key to their sound, the great wealth of musical experience contributed by each member of the group. “More importantly, there is a humbling musical thoughtfulness in each our players,” according to Mansbach, “they are, above all else, good listeners.” 

As a composer, Mansbach does not structure his works as complete schematics of every note to play throughout the piece. “My songs are quite simple,” he says. “I provide the musicians with the basic theme and a palette of colors. They make the paintings. I only write enough for the musicians to find their voices in the space and keep them out of each other’s way.” Once the players find that niche, they are free to play whatever they want, making each realization of a piece unique. “It isn’t my compositions that make Trepanning Trio interesting to listen to, it is the compelling complexity of hearing the spontaneous expression of creative minds exploring a maze of sound using an extraordinary assortment of musical instruments.”  

The Trepanning sound and their performance aesthetic are tightly connected to Mansbach’s training as a visual artist. “I have carried those lessons about working with the strengths of a medium to bring out its beauty into our music,” he says, Just as you can create medium-specific beauty with graphite, oils, clay, watercolor, or glass, you can bring that same thinking to making beautiful sounds. “It is a great joy for us to work with exotic and hand-made instruments, discovering their unique textures and tones.” 


Mansbach’s delight in discovery of uniqueness is not limited to the array of instruments. The eighteen or so musicians who have contributed significantly over the years are the very thread from which the Trepanning Trio tapestry is woven. “These amazing musicians are each unique,” says Mansbach, “not only in their choice of instruments, but in the way they respond to new material and ideas, and their ability to bring fresh improvisational elements to each interpretation.” A profile of four current members reveals a snapshot of the resources the ensemble draws upon. 

David Badagnani holds an Masters degree in ethnomusicology from Kent State University where he also pursued doctoral studies, and he taught courses there from 1994 to 2010. He plays reed instruments—english horn, oboe, Chinese sheng—plus violin and various sizes of viola da gamba. He is a true internationalist, playing music from locations as far flung as Asia, Africa, Australia, and old-time America. When asked to describe the music of the Trepanning Trio, he says, “to me it often has the thoughtful introspective feeling of Renaissance consort music.”


Since 2008, Badagnani is co-founder/director of the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble. In addition to the sheng, he plays the Chinese suona, houguan, xun, yueqin, and yehu; the Vietnamese kèn; and he is a throat singer. According to Mansbach, “David can play any instrument, from any culture, in any key. And he can tell you about the people who play the instruments, what they like to eat, and how to cook it. I could study the music of this planet for 300 years and not ever know what David knows now.” 

Chris Auerbach-Brown, a conservatory-trained composer and Media Program Manager at Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, plays alto saxophone, melodica, musical saw, udu, and does throat singing and vocal harmonizing. As a working composer, he is a vital asset to the ensemble when they have new material to master and new parts need to be written out. “Chris AB has an unrivaled gift for melody,” Mansbach says. But, as a player, his formal training invigorates Auerbach-Brown by taking him out of his comfort zone. “I’ve been forced to open up my musical worldview considerably as a result,” he says, “often at rehearsal, I’ll be handed an instrument to try on the spot and I love the challenge of making music on an instrument I’m not accustomed to playing.” 


Auerbach-Brown teaches music theory and composition at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, electronic music technology at Lakeland Community College, and courses on the connections between contemporary music and sound art with the visual arts at the Cleveland Institute of Art. 

Peggy Latkovich has a Master’s in ethnomusicology from Kent State University and a passionate interest in ancient and non-Western music. Trained as a pianist, she plays accordion, glockenspiel, banjo, hang, various and sundry percussion, and, when there is one available, acoustic piano. “Dave has a strict no-electronic-instrument-unless-you-made-it-yourself policy, so I don’t bring my other keyboards to gigs,” Latkovich says, “but I do bring along my toy piano, which I picked out of someone’s garbage. Who would throw out a mint condition toy piano? Some parent at the end of his/her rope, I guess.”


Latkovich plays in two English country dance bands (Toad in the Hole and Musidora). She is also studying composition with Auerbach-Brown and Trepanning Trio is working some of her latest creations into the repertoire. 

Brad Bolton is a self-taught musician and recording engineer who can, and does, play just about anything—guitar, godbass, turkey-baster whistle, musical saw, a blue ukulele, and a suitcase full of animal calls and squeak toys. The godbass, which Bolton made by hand, is one long string supported on a steel plate, played by bowing or plucking the string and striking the plate. “I can produce a surprising variety of sounds from deep low notes to high pitched whale-like calls,” he says. But it’s not just Bolton’s playing that matters to the group. According to Mansbach, “In large part, it is Brad’s spirit and humor that makes Trepanning Trio special. He’s been on stage with Simon and Garfunkel, the Diamonds, the Drifters, and The Ink Spots.” Bolton is also mastering live recordings for Trepanning Trio’s upcoming releases.



Following up their third CD, Auspicious Threes (2012), Trepanning Trio is about to release a new album, Naked as Needles, that showcases their music in new ways. Dawn in an Open Field Part 1, featuring bbob drake, (handmade electronic and acoustic instruments), Brad Bolton (godbass, animal calls, pigglesworth, etc.), David Mansbach (bouble bass, pan tree), Jeff Schuler (violin), and Peggy Latkovich (accordion, glockenspiel), is illustrative of the change in perspective.


Unlike the previous releases, which were meticulously crafted in the studio using the sculptural, experimental processes they’ve developed over the last twenty years, Dawn in an Open Field and all the new tracks are live recordings of truly free improvisation. According to Mansbach, “the spirit of the music is the same as what you have heard live and on our previous recordings. It still has that pretty Trepanning sound, it’s still (mostly) quiet. The difference is that what you hear is unedited, spontaneous interaction.” Naked as Needles was released on the Infinite Number of Sounds label on April 8, 2014. 

[Photos by Larry Dunn, other than Naked as Needles cover shot courtesy of Infinite Number of Sounds]

Arlene and Larry Dunn are pure amateurs of contemporary music who live in Oberlin, Ohio. They write about music for I CARE IF YOU LISTEN and the International Contemporary Ensemble’s ICEblog. Follow them on Twitter at @ICEfansArleneLD.

Filed under Treppaning Trio Arlene & Larry Dunn David Mansbach Peggy Latkovich David Badagnani Kriss Morron Brad Bolton Chris Auerbach-Brown Ron Tucker I CARE IF YOU LISTEN Infinite Number of sounds

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Violist Carrie Frey’s Recital Spins a Spellbinding Web

Violist Carrie Frey, a graduating senior at Oberlin Conservatory, is consistently one of the most intrepid musicians on a campus full of envelope-busters. She is a member Chartreuse (sometimes a string trio, sometimes a quartet), the jazz-classical fusion sextet deturtle, the new music collective Semble N, and she conceived and organized the annual In C(hristmas) mashup of her own minimalist arrangements of familiar holiday tunes. So it came as no surprise that her senior recital on April 19, 2014, in Kulas Recital Hall, was a smart reimagining of the concept.

Spun from the thinnest threads of material, Frey used the world premiere of Daniel Tacke’s die Kürze as a gossamer wrapping around two more traditional works. Tacke, a 2006 Oberlin graduate who completed his doctorate at UC San Diego in 2012, traffics in  compositions of slight fragments, distinctive gestures, and spare sound. Frey broke up the 21 short segments of die Kürze into three sections and played them as an overture, interlude, and coda to her performance. The opening section set the mood as segments i through vii were mere wisps of sounds on a ground of silence. 

Frey’s most standard repertoire selection was Brahms’ Two Songs, Op. 91, for which she was joined by mezzo-soprano Natasha Thweat and pianist Silei Ge. Brahms wrote these for violinist Joseph Joachim and his wife mezzo-soprano Amalie Schneeweiss, in hopes of injecting some domestic tranquility into their stormy marriage which suffered from Joachim’s jealous delusions. The trio deftly brought forth the alto clef’s warm sonorities of home and hearth. Segments viii through xiii of Tacke’s die Kürze returned as an intermezzo, bringing more of that precise, but ghostly soundscape. Most striking was xiii in which Frey played no sounds, just slowly raised her eyes up to the heavens. 

Composer and violist Atar Arad’s Sonata for solo viola (1992), while certainly more mainstream than die Kürze, demands thorough command of technique. Frey navigated the tortuous course of left hand pizzicatos while simultaneously bowing and frightfully rapid runs up an down the fingerboard without seeming to break a sweat. 

Frey’s clever packaging of her recital came to a close with the final section of die Kürze, segments xiv through xxi. Employed in this manner, die Kürze was more something to inhabit than a work to simply play. Frey’s every gesture and motion felt as if part of a meticulously choreographed meditative state. Even her breathing and turning of the cards on which the score was printed were calculated, precise movements. The total effect was spellbinding, as a quiet surge of energy flowed from Frey and pervaded the entire hall. 


Filed under Carrie Frey Arlene and Larry Dunn Oberlin Conservatory Daniel Tacke Atar Arad Natasha Thweat Silei Ge