A small crowd enjoyed a diverse program of strong performances, adventurous works and masterpieces by Alejandro Viñao and Toru Takemitsu at the New World Percussion Consort’s “Steel, Water, Glass” program Saturday night at New World Center.
Percussion emerged as an independent ensemble in the early 20th century, when noise was being integrated into the musical palette. Accordingly, percussionists are often among the best interpreters of new music, allowing director Michael Linville to bring stimulating new works to Miami’s contemporary music fans, such as Viñao’s three-movement Water for Five Percussion Players and Piano from 2013.
In the first section, “Edge of a tide,” Viñao’s intricate details and unpredictable shifts created ever-changing rippling cascades and ostinati, while slow piano octaves illuminated large-scale melodies embedded in the swirls and eddies. Elizabeth Galvan’s gentle congas and bongos edged slowly rising scales in “Through the wild rain,” with a central groove section that built into driving figures. Consonant ensemble attacks launched melodic fragments in “All the rivers The river,” with Linville deftly leading meter changes and accelerations, capping the bravura performance. Green and black projections of waves, rain and tides perfectly complemented the activity onstage.
Toru Takemitsu’s contrasting Rain Tree from 1982 depicts gentle rain dripping onto and off of leaves. Muted, echoing crotales between two marimba players establishes an otherworldly atmosphere, against which the vibraphone’s opening angular melody has a dramatic effect. From there, dissonant harmonies and jagged rhythms combine magically into a dreamlike state, culminating in tuttis alternating with serene sustained sections. The trio’s eloquent interpretation and sharp contrasts helped delineate the abstract meditation.
Takemitsu originally called for alternating spotlights on the marimba players’ exchanges but later decided these were distracting. Unfortunately, that was also the effect Saturday night, the frenetic, ill-advised light show undercutting a mesmerizing performance. However, an additional visual of rain coming straight at the audience through a canopy of leaves was elegantly hypnotic.
Anna Clyne’s Steelworks from 2006 combines recorded noise from a Brooklyn steel factory with a flute, bass clarinet, and marimba trio. Blocks of overly repetitive ideas create an oppressive atmosphere, interspersed with rare bursts of activity and cogwheel passages. Fragments of interviews from steelworkers provided effective introductory comments and haunting vocalise near the desolate, factory-whistle ending, but despite an immaculate performance, this music lacked depth.
Luke Dubois’ accompanying black-and-white video featured four duplicated windows of footage from the 1936 film Steel: A Symphony of Industry. Slight fluctuations between the four images interactively controlled by the musician’s dynamic levels did little to break up the overall flatness of the work.
Nigel Westlake wrote Malachite Glass in 1990 to perform on amplified bass clarinet with Australia’s Synergy Percussion quartet. In pretaped comments, Westlake appropriately called the work “youthful exuberance.”
Yet, although joyful, the work is disjointed and rough-edged. From a massive percussion battery starting with driving drums and metals, the work progresses through a chaotic mix of ideas, by turns drummy, shimmery, post-minimal, and earthy. The best included luminous marimba passages and Miles Jaques’ riffs on bass clarinet doubled in snare drum and marimbas. Unfortunately, Jaques’ amplification was still too quiet to balance with the large cohort, blurring most of his contributions.
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