Last night at the MCA, a hundred curious audience members gathered to hear eighth blackbird perform 3 new commissions. The composers commissioned had been selected as part of the first-ever eighth blackbird / Finale / American Composers Forum composition contest. More than 500 composers applied [yours truly respectfully recused himself], 3 were chosen, of which 1 was ultimately awarded the Grand Prize.
Like an idiot, I showed up late. Kurt Rohde's this bag is not a toy: a very short concerto for mixed ensemble without orchestra for sextet was already underway. I'd guess I missed about half, but judging from what I heard, I didn't miss much. There were a couple nice moments, but the moments never developed, instead being interrupted by some expressive Gesture leading to another moment. Certainly a display of compositional chops, the piece didn't seem to have anything to say.
Between pieces, they spoke with the next composer, Eric Lindsay, about his piece Town's Gonna Talk. Funny that the title should be so colloquial; the composer's cool, unctuous manner on stage mirrored the slick, 3-piece suit sound of the composition. Hater's gonna hate. As for the piece, it was like you're walking down the street, you know, and hearing all these sounds that accompany your walk, and in your head they sound like music. It was that about Chicago, the big city. There were some strong moments. The polyrhythmic percussion writing (and the execution thereof!) for Matthew Duval was inspired. It made for a post-minimalist sound but with more optimistic harmonies and not as strictly minimal. The piece broke down in the obligatory contrasting section, which threw up some new ideas but didn't go anywhere with them.
The first two pieces erred out of the Goldilocks Zone: the first had too many ideas, the second had too few. Would the third be just right?
Unlike at the actual event, I'm not going to build the suspense any more: I thought Andy Akiho's ERASE should have won and it did. And it won by having the right balance of stuff going on. And by using new sounds, new techniques but incorporating them seamlessly into the piece. Not technique for technique's sake but in service of the music. And interesting rhythms. In fact, the piece was about rhythm, again something like David Lang but less strict and predictable. Post-post-minimalism? Maybe Mr. Akiho's piece was simply the most relevant. The other two pieces were post-post-post-... modern... or Americana... but weaving in so many other styles and techniques that it left them ambiguous and generic. ERASE had character and was subsequently more tangible and memorable. And I would be more interested in hearing it again.
Good thing: as part of the Grand Prize, Mr. Akiho not only receives more cash but touring performances by the birds. Win.
Here's 8bb's post about all this.
Filed under: eighth blackbird