BURLINGTON — It was a truly incongruous situation, avant-garde classical music in a hip Burlington nightclub, but it worked — both musically and for the audience.
TURNmusic, a new music ensemble created and directed by Anne Decker, debuted Wednesday at ArtsRiot, a nightclub and restaurant, performing largely contemporary classical music — and the audience of some 50 20- and 30-somethings seemed to love it.
It didn’t hurt that the performances and the music were largely first-rate. Decker, who has conducted for a number of ensembles, including the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble, Vermont Opera Theater, etc., has assembled 10 topnotch Vermont instrumentalists and is planning a season of concerts. This program will be repeated July 18 at the Green Mountain Club in Waterbury Center.
The music ranged from cutting-edge to the mundane, plus one traditional folk song. The work that showcased the entire ensemble was Nico Muhly’s “Drones, Variations, Ornaments,” a 20-or-so-minute multi-tonal work that challenged the audience nearly as much as it did the players.
Muhly (b. 1981) is a Randolph native who is finding success internationally, including in the New York opera world. “Drones, Variations, Ornaments” is a brilliantly crafted work that explores tonalities and rhythms, yet can be taken as dramatic, even operatic storytelling. Ably conducted by Decker, it proved an adventure, one that Wednesday’s audience seemed to really enjoy despite its thorniness.
Most sublime was Brooklyn composer Missy Mazzoli’s “Dissolve, O my heart” for unaccompanied violin. Mazzoli (b. 1980) based this work on J.S. Bach’s famous Chaconne for solo violin, beginning with the same chord, and employing Bach’s 18th century violin techniques, as well as those of Eugene Ysaye’s of the 19th century, and even a touch of Appalachian fiddle, resulting in a decidedly 21st century work – but with the introspection of the original.
Mary Rowell, a Vermont native who has found success in the New York new music world as well as Vermont’s venerated Craftsbury Chamber Players, played the work with authority and imbued it a Bach-like spirituality. The audience responded, at first, with awe, then enthusiasm.
Offering some relief from these multi-tonal works was Colin McCaffrey’s “Crossing Jordan.” The East Montpelier singer-songwriter (b. 1968) lent his attractive baritone to his beautiful traditional ballad, but the accompaniment by the ensemble was spicy both tonally and rhythmically. (McCaffrey added his able electric guitar to other works on the program, including the Muhly.)
Another success was “Stomp,” a highly rhythmic and tonally striking work by David Biedenbender (b. 1984). The jazz-infused work seemed to imagine a barn dance gone awry and, though employing complex musical language, proved brilliantly crafted and most entertaining.
Comparatively, Judd Greenstein’s “Change” and Jason Treitig’s “Spring,” both minimalist works, felt pretty tame. Sarah Kirkland Snider’s “Thread and Fray” too seemed minimalist, but wove an interesting fabric. The program closed with Julia Wolfe’s “Reeling,” an attractive mix of pop and contemporary classical elements.
TURNmusic certainly made an auspicious debut, introducing truly new music to a new audience – successfully.
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