Chicago Classical Review ”” Parker’s “City Beautiful” Set and Ted Moore’s Dreamlike Landscape Highlight Ear Taxi Marathon at Epiphany
The Epiphany Center for the Arts in the West Loop hosted the penultimate day of the Ear Taxi 2021 festival on Sunday. The city-wide assortment of new music, presented by New Music Chicago and hosted by Michael Lewanski , showed no signs of slowing down as it neared its last day, with a marathon concert starting at 11 a.m. and continuing into the evening.
The beautifully renovated 1885 Epiphany Church building was an ideal venue for smaller-scale Sunday performances, hoping for more frequent classic and contemporary offerings on the site.
I was able to watch the first four 45-minute sets of the day. Pianist Marianne Parker, mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen and violist Michael Hall kicked off with an ensemble dubbed “City Beautiful,” which included five works inspired to varying degrees by architecture. Parker opened with two offerings for piano and electronics, the world premiere of Pierce Gradone Power ballad and the local premiere of a new arrangement by Steven Snowden Twenty-five million candles (originally for piano, marimba and electronics). Parker stellarly championed these finely crafted works, with Gradone on hand to share the glowing applause.
Dennis Tobenski’s local premiere Good bones followed, with Ihnen joining Parker for this brief staging of Maggie Smith’s poem of the same name. Smith’s verses are meant to protect his children from his own cynicism and the evils of the world, and Ihnen sang them with dark poise and urgency, ably accompanied by Parker.
Hall and Parker then offered the world premiere of the first movement of a new work by Francine Trester, The Daniel Burnham Suite, on the works of the legendary town planner. The movement is based on the first part of a famous quote from Burnham – “Make no small plans…” – and while Hall and Parker were a simpatico pair, the connection between this inspiration and Trester’s throaty and catchy textures was opaque. .
“City Beautiful” closed with the world premiere of Landscapes by Regina Harris Baiocchi, also in attendance on Sunday. This work for mezzo, viola and piano took Frederic Law Olmsted as a starting point, and is cast in ABA form, the outer sections in a comely harmonic vein, surrounding a more dissonant martial inner section. While the viola writing didn’t sound very idiomatic, Parker, Ihnen, and Hall captured the open-air spirit of the work, and Baiocchi made it clear that she appreciated their efforts.
Two pieces constituted the second set of the day: that of Shawn E. Okpebholo Trips for trombone and piano, and that of Daniel Pesca A line for a walk. Trombonist Daniel Quinn was joined by pianist Janna Williamson for the first. This pair worked well together in the Okpebholo triptych, with Quinn playing with a burnished tone that really touched in the closing movement “The Trav’ler”, based on the famous witty, with Williamson providing solid support. Pesca himself was at the piano for the world premiere of his own work, joined by violinist Hanna Hurwitz. A line for a walk has a strong narrative feel with many discernible episodes. While the tone of Hurwitz’s violin wasn’t always inviting, she and Pesca skillfully mapped out the composer’s canvas and its many moods, with his tired, baroque closing dance making an evocative impression.
The price for abject and relentless oddity went handily to the next ensemble the experimental band a • pe • ri • od • ic. The ‘Intersectional Member-Managed’ Troupe started with Benjamin Patterson Pond, for which a grid of blue tape was made on the ground. Members stood around this board, rolled up toy frogs and dropped them into the grid, while chanting isolated words – “bounce”, “don’t” – apparently depending on where the toys were. have fallen.
Trace3 from Carol Genetti — who joined a • pe • ri • od • ic on electronics for performance — came next. A collage of non-acute noises from instruments (bassoon, horn, cello, piano), hissing vocal suction and electronic statics created an overall impression of shortwave radio distortions. Will follow that of Emmanuelle Waeckerle O (hhh), based on O’s story, a pastiche of isolated heights on various instruments with fragmentary lines of the erotic literary work interspersed. The grand finale of a • pe • ri • od • ic was that of its president Nomi Epstein communication (3): language. The horn player traded in his instrument for what looked like a mortar and pestle, and Genetti picked up what appeared to be a white noise machine. The six members barked in isolated syllables, sometimes singing pseudo-chords, for what seemed like an eternity.
The last set I caught was also the most successful. The Dream Songs Project, a duo of mezzo Alyssa Anderson and guitarist Joseph Spoelstra joined composer Ted Moore on electronics for his expansive FEATHERMUCKER. The 50-minute score is a sort of dystopian dreamlike landscape and, according to the composer’s notes, combines “folk, experimental and electronic music; cinematographic sound effects; and sound art installation. Despite these multiple influences, the overall impression is coherent, impressive, conveying desiccation, despair, but also glimmers. Anderson, Spoelstra, and the songwriter gave a bold and compelling take on Moore’s thoughtful mini-drama, and more of this young talent is eagerly awaited.
The last day of the Ear Taxi 2021 festival is Monday. eartaxifestival.com
The Epiphany Center for the Arts regularly hosts a variety of live music. epiphanychi.com
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