In performance: Antares
Antares ensemble shines in Bates's Americana at Wolf Trap
by Joan Reinthaler
Mason Bates's musical language lies at the intersection of three major streams of contemporary music -- jazz and its offshoots, classical music with all its harmonic and textural experimentation, and electronica. His "Red River," written in 2007 for clarinet, violin, cello, piano and computer-generated sound track, traces the Colorado River's path from its origins in the Rockies, through the Grand Canyon, ending in the California desert. It exudes a sense of Americana for the 21st century (much as Dvorak's music did in the 19th century, and Copland's in the 20th).
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Antares, a clarinet, violin, cello and piano ensemble, played this admirable five-movement score as the centerpiece of its program at the Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday, coordinating with the recorded tracks smoothly and painting vast and sometimes rocky landscapes in vivid colors. The electronics provided the ambiance, a sort of wash of light and air movement punctuated by the sounds of water and insects. In the foreground, the instruments combined and recombined in mostly delicate sonorities. Clarinetist Garrick Zoeter got most of the lyrical assignments, bending his lines coolly and seductively and, while the ensemble's performance was assured, it would have profited from a much more robust contribution from Rebecca Patterson's cello.
Unlike "Red River," Peter Lieberson's "Tashi Quartet" (written in 1978), another five-movement work, doesn't have a program as an organizing principle. Antares did its best to project Lieberson's musical ideas. Pianist Eric Huebner and violinist Jesse Mills in particular were incisive and energetic in the opening Allegro and in the midst of the Scherzo's rhythmic patterns but, for all this effort, the music seemed to have little direction.
The Piano Trio Op. 1, No. 1, Beethoven at his most Mozartian, opened the program with elegant clarity and phrasing from the piano but strange remoteness from violin and cello.
-- Joan Reinthaler
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