Asian-Inflected Program With Unexpected Accent
By ALLAN KOZINN
Published: April 28, 2010
New York Times
One of the endearing attributes of the International Contemporary Ensemble, or ICE, is that it appears to have avoided taking on a stylistic agenda. Its players are virtuosic and flexible, and over the last few years they have been heard in modern works with nearly every kind of accent.
The accent the group planned to adopt for its Tuesday evening performance at Le Poisson Rouge was primarily Asian: the program was to have started and ended with works by Dai Fujikura, from Japan, and in fact the show was named for a work by Mr. Fujikura, “Returning.” Between his pieces, the musicians were to play music by Du Yun, an eclectic young Chinese composer, and John Zorn, a New Yorker who has spent considerable time in Japan and has absorbed elements of Japanese popular culture into his work.
It did not work out quite that way. When the ensemble’s pianist, Cory Smythe, fell ill, “Returning” had to be dropped. In Mr. Smythe’s place, Claire Chase and Eric Lamb, ICE’s two flutists, played “Loops III” (2003) by the French composer Philippe Hurel.
Mr. Hurel is hardly a Minimalist, but his approach to looping — repeating a figure and slowly altering it by adding or subtracting notes — works a lot like the “additive process” that propelled so many early Philip Glass scores. But Mr. Hurel’s music is less about gradual unfolding than about interlocking counterpoint and, for the sake of contrast, sudden shifts of perspective that put the two lines briefly at odds. Ms. Chase and Mr. Lamb gave the piece a lively reading that probably benefited — in terms of spontaneity and sharp-wittedness — from its having been a last-minute addition.
Mr. Zorn’s “Sortilège” (2001) for two bass clarinets begins by exploiting the sheer ridiculousness of the scoring: both players — Joshua Rubin and Campbell MacDonald — trawl around the very bottom of the instrument’s range for a few bars, then jump to their highest register for a piercing, shriek like an air-raid siren. From there, Mr. Zorn pulls the clarinets into their middle and low-middle registers and gives them playfully darting lines that coalesce as an energetic, sometimes mischievous narrative.
Ms. Du’s “Air Glow” (2009) and Mr. Fujikura’s “ICE” (2010), both premieres, share a freewheeling sensibility. In Ms. Du’s work, which she led from her laptop, electronic sounds — some subtly atmospheric, others assertively tactile — provide a frame within which a wind-and-string ensemble spin a web of increasingly wild and unpredictable yet tightly intertwined lines.
Mr. Fujikura’s piece, scored for a larger group and conducted by Matthias Pintscher, bypassed electronics but not odd timbres. Often the strings were played with guitar picks and sounded like a balalaika ensemble; elsewhere bowed textures, sliding tones and plucked notes mingled. Percussionists used rattles and noisemakers of all kinds (but no standard percussion instruments). As in Ms. Du’s piece, a listener felt pulled into a cacophonous world. But Mr. Fujikura imposed order as well, ending his score with a long, shapely flute solo for Ms. Chase.
The International Contemporary Ensemble performs with the Jack Quartet on June 29 at Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, near Thompson Street, Greenwich Village; (212) 505-3474, lepoissonrouge.com.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 30, 2010
A music review and a picture caption on Thursday about the International Contemporary Ensemble, at Le Poisson Rouge, misstated the date of the performance. It was Tuesday evening, not Monday.