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Music review: ensemblenewSRQ

In just its second concert, ensemblenewSRQ earns its place as Sarasota's premier source of new music.

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  • | 4:04 p.m. November 17, 2016
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ensemblenewSRQ — remember that name.

In only the second concert of its inaugural season, it is already the group to hear for new music in Sarasota. Not to be confused with modern music, which as a genre is a quick turn-off to some, new music is just that: new music.

Three of the four works in this concert at the First Congregational Church were less than five years old, and the other was written as long ago as 1994. Founded by George Nickson and Samantha Bennett, both principal players in the Sarasota Orchestra, ensemblenewSRQ is a collective of performers — many from the Sarasota Orchestra — which may vary from one work to another, depending on the composer’s requirements.

Photo by Bharat Chandra
Photo by Bharat Chandra

This recent concert, themed “Gardens, Clouds and Streams,” opened with  “Entr’Acte" (2011) by Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw for string quartet (Samantha Bennett and Chung-Yon Hong, violins; Jonas Benson, viola; and Natalie Helm, cello), which is at times an ethereal musing in modified Minuet form, alternating unusual string sounds of harmonics, left-hand pizzicati, whisper-light brush strokes, and at other times, with more traditional musical passages, providing, as stated by Shaw “a view from the other side of Alice’s  looking glass, in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition.”

“Six Japanese Gardens” (1994) by Kaija Saariaho for percussion and electronics, was given a virtuoso performance by George Nickson, playing a veritable plethora of percussive instruments. Just listing them would take all this allotted space. Combining live percussion with prerecorded voices and electronics (controlled by the soloist) each of these “gardens” presented a completely different sonic portrait, sounding as if it were performed by an ensemble of several players, rather than one extremely busy percussionist. Saariaho’s opera “L’Amour DeLoin” will premiere this season at the Metropolitan Opera.

“all streams reach the sea at last” (2011) by Elizabeth Ogonek, featured Betsy Hudson Traba and Francesca Arnone, flutes, alto flute and piccolos; George Nickson and Aaron Nix, percussion and Jesse Martins, piano. Consisting of widely contrasting sections, from fluttering “watery sounds” to some very active and stormy ones, each movement utilizes flutes, piano and percussion in an absolute kaleidoscope of sound and musical color, each ending in the tranquility of “reaching the open sea at last.”

Photo by Bharat Chandra
Photo by Bharat Chandra

The final work, “Prince of Clouds” (2012) by Anna Clyne, was completed at the Hermitage Artist Retreat in nearby Englewood, and featured Jennifer Best Takeda and Samantha Bennett, solo violins, with a 12-piece string ensemble, expertly conducted by George Nickson. This work, in what is probably best described as mixed contemporary concerto grosso style, alternates musical dialogues between soloists and ensemble, soloists with each other and complete ensemble passages.

Each of these musicians is an accomplished individual performer, and every musical facet of the entire evening was presented with authority, precision and musicality, whether by soloist, duet or total ensemble. 

The entire program gave listeners an opportunity to participate by forming mental images and scenes as they wished, guided by what can only be called the interactive, evocative and impressionistic beauty of the music performed.

And if you hadn’t noticed it already, the entire evening was devoted to the music of women composers, proving again that music is indeed music, and gender has nothing to do with it.


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