In performance: New Juilliard Ensemble
New Juilliard Ensemble takes a chance
by Charles T. Downey
The New Juilliard Ensemble closed out the year of free concerts at the Freer Gallery of Art on Saturday night. The program consisted of 20th-century pieces incorporating chance principles, allowing the musicians to determine the form of the work according to the composer's guidelines. These talented students from the Juilliard School not only performed at the high level one would expect but also obviously relished exploring the boundaries between improvisation and composition opened up by this experimental music.
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Perhaps too many Christmas concerts this month have warped my mind, but the program did seem to follow a familiar pattern, forming something like a Lessons and Carols service for postmodernism. Soprano Catherine Hancock opened with an unaccompanied piece by John Cage, "Eight Whiskus," almost chant-like in its austere solemnity. Henry Cowell's "26 Simultaneous Mosaics," with its emphasis on various kinds of metallic percussion, served as "Carol of the Bells." For those enamored of historically informed performance, Cage's "Music Walk" featured an actual dial-tuned transistor radio, a relic of a bygone era.
There was even a sing-along, of sorts, when the group's director, Joel Sachs, turned to conduct the audience, indicating that we should join the performers in shouting the name of Caliban in Francis Schwartz's "Cannibal-Caliban" -- brilliantly executed, it must be said. The concert concluded with a large cantata featuring all of the performers, Cage's "Aria," augmented with parts from the Concert for Piano and Orchestra. The only difference was that no one, including the performers, knew strictly what would happen next, and the "music" included all kinds of random sounds and noise, even gestures and facial expressions conducted in time by Sachs.
-- Charles T. Downey
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