Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

'Metal, Wind and Wood' introduces unique contemporary pieces

Musical group ensemblenewSRQ continues to push audiences to widen their perspective.

  • By
  • | 10:46 a.m. December 7, 2018
Co-Artistic Directors Samantha Bennett  and George Nickson presented "Metal, Wind and Wood" Dec. 3 and 4. Courtesy photo
Co-Artistic Directors Samantha Bennett and George Nickson presented "Metal, Wind and Wood" Dec. 3 and 4. Courtesy photo
  • Arts + Entertainment
  • Reviews
  • Share

This season’s second concert of ensemblenewSRQ was given the theme of “Metal, Wind and Wood,” reflecting the interactions of the music of the evening. 

Co-Artistic Directors George Nickson and Samantha Bennett constructed a program that was both interesting and thought provoking — at least to me.

Nickson introduced each selection with great care, so we, who were no doubt hearing these pieces for the first — and possibly only — time, would be as well prepared as possible for the performance. Nicely said, but when an extremely complex composition follows, it’s difficult to take it all in on a single hearing.

Berio’s “Sequenza VII for Oboe,” which was given an outstanding performance by oboist Nicholas Arbolino, is a case in point. While Berio, and Nickson, told us what to expect in the piece, it was still difficult to grasp on the first hearing. 

It is complicated, filled with seemingly random fragments of notes and sounds in all registers and meters, accompanied by a drone on B natural, which did provide a sonic foundation to the oboe’s (and oboist’s) tour de force. 

Berio wrote and Arbolino produced sounds that were at once ugly and beautiful at the same time.

Nickson followed with “Omar,” the first of two compositions by Donatoni, written for solo vibraphone, followed by “Arpege” for flute (Betsy Traba), clarinet (Bharat Chandra), vibraphone (Kyle Brightwell), piano (Conor Hanick), violin ( Bennett), and cello ( Natalie Helm). Nickson conducted the piece. 

“Omar” is episodic, with two highly contrasting sections of calming and harsh granite-like sounds, with “Arpege” using some material from “Omar,” adding the possibilities and complexities of writing for the larger group. Both works are written in regular notation, but with no bar lines, adding to the innate difficulties of the music. At times the active sections seemed organized chaos, but then a bit of Stravinsky-like rhythms restored order.

Kevin Puts is an American composer, probably best known for his opera “Silent Night,” which has received several productions and a Pulitzer Prize. Easily the most approachable work of the evening, his “Arcana” featured cellist Helm, together with violinists Bennett and Jennifer Takeda, violas Steven Laraia and Michael McClelland, and cellist Christopher Schnell in a performance that had moments of great lyrical beauty, which the composer likened to the beauties of nature.

The final work of the evening was Melinda Wagner’s “Stritch” for oboe and string quartet, an unusual combination of instruments. The swinging and percussive rhythms of the strings contrasted with the expressive lines of the oboe and made for a musical happy ending to the evening.

I’m always a bit perplexed when writing about contemporary music, especially when given such outstanding performances as these by ensemblenewSRQ, because only one hearing doesn’t allow any listener to really “hear” the music, which usually speaks with a completely different musical form, vocabulary and syntax than we are used to hearing. 

Sarasota is indeed fortunate that Bennett, Nickson and their professional colleagues of ensemblenewSRQ are bringing us expert and insightful performances of important yet unfamiliar works.

Perhaps, like modern art, we can only judge it by “I like it” or “I don’t like it,” but we are at least given the opportunity to make that decision.

For me, I like it.


Latest News