Friday, May 27, 2016

Dal Niente: Young Punks and Established Masters

Ensemble Dal Niente
This year, among the resident ensembles at the June in Buffalo festival will be a Chicago-based ensemble the New York Times has called a "superb contemporary-music collective", Dal Niente.  The ensemble's evocative name ("from nothing") comes from Helmut Lachenmann's Dal niente (Interieur III), a work whose "revolutionary style" has served as an inspiration to its members.  The name also refers to the group's humble beginnings:  initially formed as a collective of graduate composers at Northwestern University, the ensemble's introduction to the international music community was quickly boosted during their Darmstadt residency in 2012, at which they became the first ensemble to be awarded the prestigious Kranichstein Music Prize.  Since then, Dal Niente has made it their mission to present new works in ways that "redefine the listening experience and advance the art form", through "immersive experiences which connect audiences with the music of today."  They have been quite successful with the latter, as the Chicago Tribune has described them as "a model of what contemporary music needs, but seldom gets, to reach and engage a wider public."

Dal Niente are nothing if not active, and have built a reputation for exciting and prolific programming.  Some recent projects include "Canciones", a three-week tour of Latin America, including stops in Colombia, Mexico, and Panama which featured four world premieres, as well as the Chicago premiere of Georg Friedrich Haas's in vainwidely recognized as one of the early masterpieces of the 21st century.  The ensemble's varied concert series have included Proximity Portraits, which seek to introduce local audiences to international composers whose music is rarely performed in the group's native Chicago (a series which has thus far featured music by Andriessen, Ligeti, Stockhausen, and Claude Vivier), and Punks, a project which "celebrates composers whose independent spirit has led to musical experiences that are uniquely original and ambitious in reinventing the art form."  The latter series has featured music by Raphaël Cendo and Natacha Diels, and a collaboration with Greg Saunier of the band Deerhoof, who arranged the Deerhoof Chamber Variations for the ensemble.  This latter collaboration eventually led to the ensemble's most recent project, a collaboration with Deerhoof for a recording of Saunier's Variations, as well as a new work composed by Marcos Balter.

Dal Niente is known locally for their Hard Music, Hard Liquor series, which features music that requires extreme virtuosity from its performers.  Other recent projects include the audio/video concert Coming Togetherwhich featured works by American composers enhanced with live video art by the new media artist Alejandro Acierto.  One of the centerpieces of this program is Assemblage by trombonist/improviser/composer George Lewis, which can be seen below:

At June in Buffalo, Dal Niente will perform a program that will feature works by faculty composers, including Chinary Ung's Singing Inside Aura and Winternacht by Hans Abrahamsen.  No stranger to the former's music, the ensemble performed the Chicago premiere of Schnee in 2014, which Ensemble Signal will present at this year's JiB (for more on that performance, see our profile on Signal).  The program will also feature David Felder's Rare Air, for bass clarinet, piano, and electronics.  The four-movement work, originally composed for Jean Kopperud's Rated X project, is a collection of miniatures that feature an exotic menagerie of virtuosic extended techniques that create a strange-but-enticing sonic environment.  Finally, the ensemble will present Joshua Fineberg's Paradigms, for ensemble and electronics.  This latter piece is based on compositional models, as the composer explains:
I recorded several passages of instrumental music [which] were then analyzed; not, however, in the ordinary manner […].  Instead, I sought to extract the essence of the color, sound and motion not of these passages in their abstract existence, but of their realization.  To find a model in which each individual instrument playing in a precise way is fused together in one global timbre.  This global timbre then, once understood, could serve as my new model, to be re-interpreted, re-evaluated and again transformed into a new musical structure.
Dal Niente has made educational outreach an integral part of its mission, and have participated in composition workshops and masterclasses at a number of colleges and universities.  Since their formation in 2004, the ensemble has developed a particular skill for helping composers realize their visions, whether they be young punks or established masters.