Monday, March 13, 2017

Ensemble Mise-En: Beauty and Decoration

This week the Center for 21st Century Music welcomes guest ensemble ENSEMBLE MISE-EN for a concert and workshop. The ensemble is a NYC-based collective of young performers, founded in 2011 and led by composer Moon Young Ha. The group’s name originates from Korean words--mee (beauty) and zahn (decorate)--and crystallizes the ensemble’s focus, as a “multi-national personnel…unabashedly promotes 'beautiful' artwork to increasingly diverse audiences.” In a short six years, Mise-En has quickly established itself, with performances at le poisson rouge, Bohemian National Hall, Italian Academy, Tenri Cultural Institute, a residency at the cell, and partnerships with Washington Square Contemporary Music Society, International Alliance for Women in Music, Austrian Cultural Forum New York, Open Meadows Foundation, New York University, New York Foundation for the Arts, I-Park, Goethe-Institute Boston, Villa Gillet and others.

In addition to these guest appearances, the ensemble has also presented its own events, often at its own space, MISE-EN_PLACE, opened in 2014 in Brooklyn. Noted by the New York Times for “examining unusual corners of the composition world,” a common thread Mise-En’s events is advocacy for under-recognized composers and alternative canons. Mise-En’s portrait concerts have featured the work of Franco Donatoni, Sofia Gubaidulina, Edison Denisov, and Claude Vivier--highlighting alternative modernisms--and have introduced American audiences to European composers such as Bent Sørensen and Wolfgang Mitterer. Along similar lines, the ensemble’s “Connections” series explores unexpected commonalities between works across differences in geography and age. Finally, Mise-En’s eponymous annual festival is unique in the contemporary music landscape for its focus on an impressively international group of emerging composers.

While at UB, the group will present a workshop of new works by UB PhD students together with a concert of works from the ensemble’s repertoire. The concert features five works written by emerging composers in the past two years plus an older work by a senior composer. Robert A. Baker’s all the lights are gathered in your eyes might be described as reliefs, counterposing materials with highly contrasting energies; an excerpt of the piece is available here. Sergio Augusto Cote Barco’s Rand (see above for recording) begins with similarly stark contrasts, which loosen as the piece unfolds.

In contrast to the discontinuities and contrasts of the latter two pieces, Anna Meadors’s Flight and Fredric Rzewski’s Moonrise with Memories explore varieties of regular rhythmic pulsation and repetition. Rzewski’s piece features a melodic bass trombone solo accompanied by six unspecified instruments playing repetitive, rhythmically regular materials in canon, in what might be understood as a personal response to Steve Reich’s proposal to build music from gradual constructive processes (a recording is available on Spotify, and a score is available on IMSLP). In contrast, Meadors’s piece (see above for recording) looks at (post)-minimalist possibilities decades later, bringing familiar minimalist devices like regular pulsation and gradual harmonic change into dialogue with  notions of drama and contrast characteristic of Western art music in the 18th- and 19th-centuries.

Harmony comes to the forefront in Amanda Feery’s Those So Moral, which constructs a strikingly fresh approach to conjunct voice-leading. The work’s voice-leading strongly references the ostensibly tonal intervals of the perfect fourth and fifth, but defamiliarizes them through the use of glissandi, close intervals resulting in beating, and klangfarbenmelodie. The concert also includes ensemble director Moon Young Ha’s (in)stillness.

To find out more about Ensemble Mise-En, have a look at their website, soundcloud page, and the ample documentation of their performances available on youtube.

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