La Musica, one of Sarasota’s international chamber music festivals, returned for performances this past week at the Opera House with programs that looked much better on paper than they turned out to be in reality.
One of the several problems with this festival in recent years has been its stagnant programming. In an attempt to update its concerts, this year’s offerings included slightly more modern composers such as Walton, Bridge, Popper and Bartok. But this modest attempt at revitalizing the repertoire made barely a dent in the overall atmosphere of La Musica, with one exception: a world premiere of a commissioned piece by Vijay Iyer called “Bruits.” Well known for his work in jazz and electronic music, Iyer is both a McArthur Genius Fellowship winner and recipient of the Greenfield Prize from the Hermitage Artist Retreat and Philadelphia’s Greenfield Foundation.
According to the dictionary, “A bruit is an audible vascular sound associated with turbulent blood flow.” There was much more than blood flowing in Iyer’s work, which eminent Imani Winds with pianist Cory Smythe played this past Thursday evening — it seemed Francis Poulenc had run headlong into John Adams.
Filled with interesting sounds that, at times, turned the winds into a percussion section, Iyer had the musicians beating, thrashing, fluttering, thumping, palpating, pulsating, drumming, pounding and thudding their instruments while the piano hammered scales and undulated intervals.
But “Bruits” isn’t just about noises and sounds. It’s also about the controversial “Stand your ground” and “Shoot first” laws in Florida and, to make his point, Iyer had the members of the Imani chant the text of the laws as part of the music. It wasn’t exactly Sprechstimme, because the musicians didn’t speak on any discernable pitches. And, because their voices weren’t amplified, it was often difficult to understand what they were saying. But they got their point across, making this a sometimes powerful piece.
That’s not to say “Bruits” is particularly new in its concept. Somewhat reminiscent of the experimental music that was being composed in the 1970s, “Bruits” is more interesting in theory than emotional impact. One of the problems with this type of writing is that you need to read the program notes before you can fully understand what the composer is trying to say and that bothers me. I want music to speak to me, move me and be accessible to my gut without an explanation. Still, it was refreshing to hear something different at La Musica.
Thursday’s program opened with a clean, nicely shaped performance of Boccherini’s well-known E major Quintet with violinists Federico Agostini and Laura Zarina, violist Rebecca Albers and cellists Julie Albers and Dmitri Atapine. This is pure parlor music, and its famous minuet, which has been heard in everything from TV commercials and movies to radio “bumpers” separating the news from the weather forecast, is charming but blithely predictable.
The evening concluded with Schubert’s beloved “Trout” Quintet in a perfunctory reading by pianist Derek Han, violinist Massimo Quarta, violist Bruno Giuranna, cellist Antonio Meneses and bassist Scott Faulkner that was fraught with a seeming lack of consensus among the players about pitch and overall concept. This was not a “Trout” we’d want to catch.