Thursday, October 2, 2014

Next week at the Center: Signal Ensemble, Brad Lubman, and Larry Groupé

Last year, the Slee Sinfonietta began their season with a program centered around Pierre Boulez's monumental Dérive 2 for 11 instruments.  Conducted by Case Scaglione, the Sinfonietta expertly wound their way through Boulez's labyrinthine gestures and abrupt texture changes, a feat which you can hear on the recording below:

On October 7, the Slee Sinfonietta will present Ensemble Signal, under the direction of Brad Lubman, kicking off the Center's fall season with Dérive 2's older sibling.  While composed for a smaller ensemble (pierrot ensemble plus vibraphone), and unravelling over a brief six minutes, Dérive 1 (1984) is no less significant than its successor.  Its title evokes the idea of "drift", and can also be translated as "derivative," the latter a reference to the fact that much of the piece's material is derived from Répons, a large-scale work for six soloists and electronics composed three years earlier.  Répons itself was derived from material from Boulez's Messagesquisse, notably a six-note chord based on the patron Paul Sacher's last name (S-A-C-H-E-R or Eb-A-C-B-E-D).  This same chord is the pillar that supports Dérive 1, reappearing in various combinations over the course of the work.  The piece unifies many of the characteristics so common to Boulez's music:  his "smooth time" marked by chaotic, irregular gestures; the "striated time" represented by rapidly articulated repeating notes; and the "metrical time" which made its first appearance in Répons, a grounding in an (admittedly highly-ornamented) regularity.  The piece is led by the piano which, in addition to introducing the piece's primary sonority, provides a subtle harmonic backdrop by using the sostenuto pedal to allow its lowest octave to resonate throughout the piece.

A fitting companion to Boulez's piece is Elliott Carter's Triple Duo.  Composed a year before Dérive 1, and for a similar instrumentation, Carter's piece is a trialogue between three instrumental pairs:  flute/clarinet, violin/'cello, piano/percussion.  This witty, mercurial piece features a number of quick cuts between differing sections, with each duo occupying its own registral and gestural spheres.  The composer David Schiff, in his monograph on Carter describes the ensemble as a 'raucous band':  "the woodwinds gurgle, shriek, and coo like a pair of amorous birds, the strings scrape and pluck comically, and the percussion and piano evoke the more angular variety of free jazz."  That final comparison is perhaps most apparent during the piece's finale, a dynamic escapade marked by syncopated tuttis, arabesque lyricism, and jerkily disjunct gestures, or as Schiff refers to it, "ultra-bop."

Charles Wuorinen's New York Notes, composed just a year before Carter's piece (1982), also divides the ensemble into three duets of related instrumental pairs, while also allowing each performer moments of virtuosic flair.  The piece is divided into a traditional fast-slow-fast three-movement structure, however, as Wuorinen explains, "The tempo is always the same, so that the differing speeds contained in the work are all expressed through note-value alterations rather than pulse changes."  This is no doubt a challenging element for Lubman and the musicians, but they are certainly up to the task!

Lubman and Signal are not the only guests visiting the Center next week, film composer Larry Groupé will be the first speaker in the Visiting Lecture Series.  Groupé has composed scores for several well-known films, including Straw Dogs (2011), Nothing but the Truth (2008), Resurrecting the Champ (2007), and, perhaps most notably, The Contender (2000).  He also acted as the co-composer and conductor for the progressive rock band Yes's 2001 album Magnification, while also writing overtures, arrangements and conducting for their Symphonic Tour of the World.  Groupé's score to the 2004 ABC series Line of Fire was nominated for a primetime Emmy, and he has received two Emmy awards for his work on the documentaries Jonas Salk: Personally Speaking (1999), and Residue (2008).  In a particularly interesting project, Groupé scored the film I Woke Up Early the Day I Died (1998), which was based on camp director Ed Wood's final, unfilmed script and starred Billy Zane and Christina Ricci.  No stranger to the avant garde, Groupé studied composition at UC San Diego with Roger Reynolds, Toru Takemitsu, Pauline Oliveros, and Bernard Rands, and computer music at Stanford with John Chowning and Leland Smith.  We look forward to hearing his presentation on October 6, at 3:00pm in Baird Recital Hall!

—Ethan Hayden