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In performance: Great Noise Ensemble

Web-only review:

Great Noise Ensemble closes season with new works, new instruments
by Joan Reinthaler

A detail of "Stairdrum," one of three percussion instrument sculptures created by Terry Berlier for the world premiere of D. J. Sparr's "41st Rudiment" on Friday. (Armando Bayolo/Sequenza 21)

Go to a concert of the classics and you commit yourself, at least for a couple of hours, to the special but removed world where great music resides. Those who went to the Great Noise Ensemble's concert at Catholic University's Ward Hall on Friday, however, were brought face to face with music as life.

In ever-changing combinations, the ensemble's 15 strings, woodwinds, piano and percussion (led by conductor Armando Bayolo) served up city noises and evolving emotional states in Ian Hartsough's concert drama "City Life," with mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen and narrator Pamela Witcher as protagonists in a girl's first encounter with life on her own.

Then the group offered aural portraits of four favorite cartoon characters in Robert Paterson's "Looney Tunes." With techniques expanded to include scraping sounds, grunts, whistles and screams, the music was put out there with enormous exuberance and good humor, all tempered by moments of delicacy and restraint.
(read more after the jump)

Interwoven with all this was the world premiere of D.J. Sparr's fascinating "The 41st Rudiment," sort of a percussion concerto devised as a sound-sculpture collaboration with sculptor Terry Berlier, who built the structures that served as the instruments. There was a "Pan Lid Gamelan" from which soloist Chris Froh drew silvery sounds with a brush and clear bell-like tones with a mallet; a "Stairdrum" -- literally, a set of steps -- incised with cajón-like shapes that, when struck, sounded like resonant wood blocks; and, visually most beautiful, a three-foot-high, wooden truncated icosahedron (a soccer ball shape) with some of the faces cut out and with resonating material coiled inside that, when slapped with flexible paddles, emitted a variety of pitches and timbres.

Froh danced from one of these sculptures to another, dictating improvised rhythms individually to accompanying instrumentalists and shaping the intensity of his musical structures with a sure sense of architecture. This was music securely joined at the hip with the visual art it partnered.

-- Joan Reinthaler

By Anne Midgette  |  May 2, 2010; 11:00 PM ET
Categories:  Washington , local reviews  
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I'll second what Joan wrote and add, that it was a concert that held my interest from the first minute to the last. ALL the pieces were worth a second hearing.

Me, I had to pinch myself to keep from giggling too loud at Megan Ihnen's arch characterization of Ian Hartsough's "City Life".

I found the controlled improvisational aspects of the 41st Regiment completely captivating with Chris Froh doing his best Lully imitation as he "wound the rhythmic spring" for each of the six soloists.

It should also be noted that there was not only fine musicianship shown by the GNE members as they rendered the Road Runner in Paterson's "Looney Tunes" but dazzling speed and virtuosity as well.

Bravo composers; Bravo GNE; and let's thank the good folks at Catholic University for hosting the group and the event.

Posted by: Pilgim | May 3, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

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