Los Angeles Music Review: YARN/WIRE (Monday Evening Concerts at The Colburn School)

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by Daniel S. G. Wood on January 20, 2018

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


For those who don’t know, Monday Evening Concerts is L.A.’s longest running new music show, dating to back to 1939. To put its legacy in to perspective, the series hosted Pierre Boulez’s American debut and a few Stravinsky premieres. Now it exists much in the same way, premiering works by emerging or established composers couched in new music classics or historical curios: This season’s debut juxtaposed the 800-year-old abbess Hildegard von Bingen with contemporary European stalwart Pierluigi Billone.

Monday’s show presented Yarn/Wire, an American piano and percussion quartet. M.E.C.’s artistic director Jonathan Hepfer remarked during his preamble on the group’s “gumption” for not only surviving the year-long (or so) honeymoon many collegiate groups experience before falling apart, but actually developing, even thriving. They have been active for more than a decade, and only show signs of increasing their market share; of the five pieces on the program, three were in fact written for their group.

The setup of two pianos (Laura Barger, Ning Yu) and two percussionists (Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg) never seemed novel, despite being something of an anomaly in even the chamber music universe. This has something to do with the breadth of the percussion, and even the keyboards used, but mostly the pieces seemed perfectly tailored to the players. The group’s obvious virtuosity never hid behind any impregnable conceptual trappings nor did it upstage anything. They let the humor-forward evening simply occur.

Australian composer Thomas Meadowcroft’s Walkman Antiquarian opens with a brazen doleful piano statement that becomes the piece’s germ; slowly, electronics and a kitchen sink percussion ensemble (honorable mentions: skittles on a snare drum and a coffee mug laden turntable) join the show accumulating and bubbling until the piece is suddenly over. The twenty minute duration blew by; the piece had such a nice emotional pitch that the maximalist approach came off as charming.

Suddenly, the stage emptied for the first of Johannes Kreidler’s Scanner Studies, a piece for programmed MIDI and text. The five-minute media piece functioned like an amuse-bouche, resembling those YouTube videos where an image is mapped over a MIDI keyboard, only in this case it was words or just bars of black, among others. The timing of the incoming cluster ended up being hilarious, somewhere between a serious sound piece and Tex Avery.

Cat Lamb’s Curvo Totalitas used Yarn/Wire’s instrumentation to great effect: Each member occupies a corner of the hall alternating gong rolls with sparse intervals on specifically tuned keyboards. The controlled sonic environment and the lights being out the resulted in something like a guided meditation, though certainly nothing trite.

Again the screen went down for another Scanner Study though this time it segued perfectly into Øyvind Torvund’s multi-movement multimedia Untitled School. This bubbly pointillistic exploit was an appropriate finale; rhythmic cuts between images as disparate as Rousseau paintings and illuminated manuscript on the projector apposed with electronic jabs, glissandi, and bowed cymbal proliferated throughout the movements (scales) (textures) (chords / textures) (imitations) (jungles) until again the lights were turned off. The evening unfortunately took a totally unsavory turn during a movement called “MudJam.” A sort of an inversion of the first half’s meditation, the four players again spread to each corner of The Colburn School’s Zipper Hall, only this time each seemed to be instructed to wail on one of the most abrasive sounding homemade instruments imaginable until they couldn’t. Thankfully an epilogue (“Campfire Tunes”) saved the evening.

More than just being a good show, the evening indicated that the legacy of M.E.C. is in good hands. Yarn/Wire and their act fit into a finely crafted curatorial habit that Mr. Hepfer has spent the last two years displaying. While there could be more shows in the season (pretty please???) the artistic director deserves a lot of credit for refreshing and sustaining this institution; beyond picking some very cool and specific work, his shows attract a curious and well-dressed group of fans that are maybe missing across the street at Disney Hall.

Monday Evening Concerts
Zipper Hall at the The Colburn School in DTLA
played on January 8, 2018
for future events, visit M.E.C.

for more info, visit Yarn/Wire

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