MusicNOW: the dawning of a new era - Part III

[this is a continuation of my review of MusicNOW. Part I is here; Part II is here.]

Bhairav

After Anna Clyne's work filled our every mental orifice, it was a welcome break to have Ana Lara's Bhairav, a completely innocuous piece for string quartet that, much like Balter's string trio, functioned very well as a sort of aural sorbet.  The first third of the piece used shimmering tremolos in the upper strings to accompany a very run-of-the-mill, elegiac chant in the cello.  The tune moved up through the viola and then to each of the violins.  This took all too long, proceeding slowly and predictably.  Suddenly, and with no apparent reason, the second half took off with a driving rhythmic homage to either Shostakovich or Bartòk.  Those with less experienced ears could call it a favorite; those with jaded and overtrained ears could hear the thieving and called it "embarrassing."  And, there were no program notes, no explanation before the piece, so the meaning of the piece, something that might have distracted us from its simplicity, remained an enigma.  I was content to hear it once--but just once--but kept wishing I were hearing one of Schnittke's string quartets.  [Apparently, I missed a sixth of the piece somewhere: lost to the ether.] (3.5 / 10)

Digital Looms
My first reaction to Mason Bates' closing piece was against the title: using "digital" in a title sounds cheesy.  And since the piece was for pipe organ (yes, like the one in the church, not a B3) it had an uphill battle to prove that it wasn't straight out of the Mars Cheese Castle.  As soon as it started, though, my fears were allayed; the opening movement had nothing schmaltzy about it, instead playing it cool, like a DJ spinning at a cool underground-loft-art-gallery.  This progressed and flowed into the second movement, Fanfare with Breaks, which was like spastic, Keith Emerson-esque, organ dogfighting against Amen breaking all over the place.  Not quite cheesy but it had its moments.  After the third movement, things get a little fuzzy for me (it's also been a couple days).  I remember the 4th movement, Geraldine's Parlour, because of the vibrato, self-consciously feeding the audience one big cheese ball.    
I felt engaged while watching it, but now I'm not so sure of its merits.  If there's one thing that Bates is good at, it's the moments; if there's one thing he's still working on, it's tying it all together.  Each moment is beautiful, interesting or some quizzical combination, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts--just the opposite of Anna Clyne's piece.  
Also, judging by Bates' music that I've heard so far, and this piece in particular, I find that his stylistic palate for each piece is too glutinous.  He presents enough styles for an entire concert, so when his work comes at the end of the concert, it feels like stylistic overload.  Now that we can do anything, do we throw everything into each piece?  I say: "Say no to say yes."  Save some styles for future work and develop the ideas you have further.  
That being said, I would hear his piece once or twice more.  Not destined to be a classic, it's both attention-grabbing and holding--a journey through a land of many cultures . (6.75 / 10)

It looks like Bates' and Clyne's music got my highest marks, which brings up a good question: did Mason and Anna choose the other pieces to make their own look good or was it pure accident?

Filed under: musicnow, new music

Tags: bates, cso, musicnow

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