On a warmish November night, I attended a packed new music event put together by Composers Concordance, violinist Tim Fain, and an influential cohort of cutting-edge composers. The concert, A House of Many Rooms, featuring violinist Tim Fain with pianist Timo Andres, took place on November 8, 2015 at (Le) Poisson Rouge, a downtown venue on Bleecker Street that boasts a beguiling, flickering red fish at the entrance and a reputation for fresh sound all its own.
On the program were compositions by Kevin Puts, Dan Cooper, Milica Paranosic, and Christopher Cerrone, along with the world premieres of Beirut is A House of Many Rooms, by Randall Woolf, and Natural, by Gene Pritsker. Most pieces were related to physical places.
Dan Cooper's well-integrated El Planeta Rojo had the feel of an electro-acoustic score for animation. A sound world of mournful violin phrases hovering lazily over angular electronic grooves, echoing a distant, orderly universe, created a fine sense of what dreaming about Mars could actually sound like. Arches, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts, provided a blissful playground for Tim Fain's articulated bowing in the seemingly abstract Caprice-Aria scheme, while Milica Paranosic's Al' Airi Lepo Sviri, set to a poignant video by Carmen Kordas, brought about a progressive treatment of common, if all too easily appropriated, misconceptions about the role of the feminine in traditional cultures. A sense of pre-industrial pure was present in Gene Pritsker's Natural, an electro-bucolic pairing of samples recorded in nature with bursts of analog electronics and violin lines. The accompanying visuals mimicking early video technology were created by the composer.
As an expat myself, my pulse quickened at the opening of Randall Woolf's Beirut is A House of Many Rooms. The heavily romantic opening motives well supported the unabashedly romantic notions I harbor for Sarajevo, my birthplace. By weaving the sounds of the ‘oud, Lebanese singers, city noises and a solemn violin operating mostly in lower registers (as if culled from a Jerzy Grotowski play), Woolf achieved a moving tribute to the essence of "Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East". His score, not unlike the city itself, cradles western and eastern cultural idioms, and many more besides. The sense of excitement forged through coexistence was deepened by an accompanying film expertly shot in Beirut by Mary Harron and John C. Walsh, one that reveals the nature of communal life reminiscent of Peter Greenaway's work. This is impressive given that the film was made after the music was completed.
Winner of the 2015 Samuel Barber ‘Rome Prize’, Christopher Cerrone was represented by a crafty work that combined 1990s minimalist language with gestural pop in a sonata form. For this piece, Fain teamed up with Timo Andres who shone brightly at the piano with a crystalline sound and attractive dramatic timing.
Described by the Boston Globe as a "charismatic young violinist with a matinee idol profile, strong musical instincts, and first rate chops," Tim Fain's offerings that night confirmed the Globe’s judgment and then some. Fain is an extremely sensitive interpreter who, with an assured yet understated virtuosity, pulled the utmost from every score. He proved to be a charming host and showed impressive panache, even during a tech glitch which temporarily prevented the start of one piece. But most of all, Fain imbued the night with a sense of purpose and the need for contemporary composition –a feat hard to achieve in a town with over 250 concerts per night and where new music ensembles and soloists, and their audiences, seem to multiply overnight in every borough.
The funds for the event came from a number of arts foundations, including the New York State Council on the Arts, New Music USA, and private donors.
Connections 'n Picks
An "enterprising new music organization" according to The New York Times, Composers Concordance presents over 15 concerts every season, attracting over eighty top musicians to perform, along with visual artists, technologists, choreographers, and filmmakers. The beginnings of the organization are tied to the vision of the composer and electronic music pioneer Otto Luening. Now in its 30th season, Composers Concordance is a hard-working endeavor through which many talented composers have a chance to be heard and many an innovative technological tool tried out. I pick Directors Gene Pritsker and Dan Cooper who co-curate the programs. I pick my fellow Associate Directors for the 2015-16 season Milica Paranosic, Peter Jarvis, and Melissa Grey. Many creations done for and by the organization are released through Composers Concordance Records, and distributed by Naxos. I pick the label for its innovative thinking and appetite for cultural change. I pick the NYC audience that came out in force and knew how to reward the artists. I pick Tim Fain for saying “yes.”
The Poisson Rouge program illuminated the world's many corners and offered a sense of hope for a contemporary music that reflects a glorious, multifarious and yet essentially undivided existence. This feeling of promise –now more of a rarity in a post-Paris world– is what interests me as a citizen and a creator; this promise inspires me to write, and create, what I do. With the world around us kicking like a wounded colt, the resolve to trust the possibility of the positive voices now multiplying, giving us a wiser version of ourselves through the arts, is a choice to be made. Reverse-engineering, please! For the audience on Nov. 8, this concert represented a solid opportunity to choose well. It also made plain that Tim Fain has the capacity to play a larger role outside of the concert hall if he chooses to do so.
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