by Mike Telin
Presented in the intimate, acoustically-pleasing Mistake Lab, Austin-based cellist James Burch began his set with Phong Tran’s Durability Problems (2017). Burch brought a dark, rich sound, loads of technique, and great intonation to the five-minute, mercurial work full of sudden tempo changes and mood shifts.
Composer Corey Cunningham’s From Down Here (2016) is an engaging study in contrasting cells of emotion. Burch gave a committed performance of the eighteen-minute piece, tossing off complicated string crossings and pizzicato harmonics with flair.
Next up was Chicago-based percussionist John Corkill, who presented two works by composers from that city. Seung-Won Oh’s slow, colorful Circle (2004) calls for a variety of instruments, including a water bowl, woodblocks, and tam-tams. One by one, Corkill methodically dipped each tam into the water bowl, then hung them on the metal frame to dry.
Kyong Mee Choi’s mesmerizing Flowerlips (2006) features long, melodic passages on the vibraphone that create a river of sound, while staccatos depict the petals hitting the water. Switching to hard mallets, Corkill produced cascades of glissandos as the flowers floated away.
Chicago-based flutist Shanna Gutierrez began her set with Eric Chasalow’s imaginative Ariel Fantasy (2017). The work interweaves the text of Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s The Tempest with accents of spits and spats from the flute. Gutierrez has obviously taken the piece’s vocal demands — which sometimes verge on Sprechstimme — quite seriously. Her voice is well-trained.
Switching to bass flute, Gutierrez sounded splendid during Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf’s complex atsiminimas (2016). Written on three staves, the three-section, fifteen-minute work includes possibly every extended technique the instrument is capable of producing. Gutierrez’s playing of the microtonal third section was brilliant.
The Columbus-based Tower Duo — Erin Helgeson Torres, flute, and Michael Rene Torres, saxophone — began their delightful set with Charlie Wilmoth’s Three Pieces (2013). Described as a “broken-down, tiny toy machine,” the three-movement work is anything but child’s play. Still, the first is filled with bouncy melodic passages that are passed between the instruments, conjuring up the idea of a musical teeter-totter. The second is rhythmic ping-pong, while the third weaves fast unison passages with off-kilter moments — no, the saxophonist is not behind.
The afternoon concluded with Michael Rene Torres’ Four Short Episodes (2011), a study in dialogue between the two instruments. Episode one is defined by slow, dissonant scale motives in the flute, commented on by multiphonics in the sax. Number two, a brief musical romp, is followed by long, soft notes and loud flourishes in the third. The fourth is a collage of marches. Throughout, Tower Duo’s performance was a joy to hear.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com June 19, 2018.
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