The New York Times
By Allan Kozinn
March 31, 2008
Music Review | Pocket Concertos
Even by the adventurous standards of the Miller Theater, the Pocket Concertos series that it started in 2006 came with built-in land mines. The plan was to present the premieres of a dozen newly commissioned concertos in three annual installments, and mishaps weren’t long in coming. At the first concert, a piano concerto by Ichizo Okashiro, “The Starry Night,” proved too difficult to prepare in the available time and was postponed. It turned up in the finale, on Thursday evening. But a cello concerto by Marc-André Dalbavie was put off until next season, when it will be part of a Composer Portrait.
“The Starry Night,” as it happened, seemed no more complicated than the other works on the program, John Zorn’s manic flute and percussion work, “The Prophetic Mysteries of Angels, Witches and Demons,” and Laura Elise Schwendinger’s violin concerto, “Chiaroscuro Azzurro.” And all three received energetic, polished performances, with solo playing that showed the spirit of flashy 19th-century virtuosity to be alive and well.
Mr. Zorn’s work, which opened the concert, married that virtuosity to an idiosyncratic, modern zaniness. The solo line, given a fiery reading by Tara Helen O’Connor, is intricate and tuneful, its soaring melodies occasionally punctuated by bursts of multiphonics, almost as a reminder of the score’s contemporary bona fides.
Not that a reminder was necessary. The accompaniment mixed traditional percussive thwacks with sound effects of all kinds — pouring, swirling and blowing bubbles in water; tramping on gravel; crinkling magnetic recording tape; scratching a 78-r.p.m. record; dueling with umbrellas — performed by the percussionists William Winant and Alex Lipowski. Ikue Mori supplied electronic effects from a computer. If the work had one shortcoming, it was that the manic cartoonishness of the percussion scoring often distracted attention from the musically meatier solo line.
Ms. Schwendinger’s work also lives in (at least) two worlds. The violin writing, played with equal measures of energy and velvety richness by Jennifer Koh, is sometimes assertive and rhythmically sharp-edged, but those moments virtually always resolve into a sweetly singing line. The grittier orchestral writing offsets that sweetness without overwhelming it. This is a work that seems likely to blossom with repeated listening.
Mr. Okashiro’s “Starry Night” was inspired partly by the van Gogh painting, and it does a surprisingly good job of evoking it. Both the orchestral fabric and the piano line are dark and mildly dissonant, with the combination of piano and pitched percussion yielding occasional glimmers of light. The pianist Christopher Taylor’s solo playing, assured and colorful, deftly balanced tension and delicacy.
The superb players of the International Contemporary Ensemble performed in the Okashiro and Schwendinger works, with Jayce Ogren conducting.
© 2008 The New York Times