Fulcrum Point puts the pedal to the metal

Thu Oct 28, 2010 at 6:24 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Stephen Burns (center) and Fulcrum Point perform Stefan Freund’s “Metal” Wednesday at the Harris Theater. Photo: David Cortes

One can only guess what motorists on East Randolph Street thought Wednesday night as they drove past the Harris Theater.

In between two vintage cars, four female singers performed Larry Miller’s Sentinel, a densely contrapuntal fugue imitating a bewildering array of activated car alarms. The Fluxus performance marked the 50th anniversary of George Brecht’s infamous “Motor Vehicle Sundown Event,” in which cars, trucks and motorcycles become an automotive symphony orchestra.

That–and more Fluxus performers hammering nails into blocks of wood inside the Harris Theater—served as offbeat prelude for “Motown Metal,” the concert presented by Fulcrum Point.

Rather than vehicles becoming instruments, the program morphed brass and percussion into cars and machines, then deconstructed their component parts with an array of music in Fulcrum Point’s best genre-smashing style.

Michael Daugherty’s Motown Metal, which gave the evening its title, led off in the Detroit-born composer’s punchy rock style. The chromatic scales and ascending and descending trombone glissandi make a worthy portrait of accelerating car and truck engines, and the hip-swaying middle section shows some influence of Daugherty’s time as 1960s soul-band percussionist. Under artistic director Stephen Burns’ direction, the brass ensemble delivered a vital, sassy performance.

David Lang’s the anvil chorus shows the Pulitzer Prize winner and Bang on a Can  founder’s bona fides, in a work intent on evoking the anvil’s origins. Jeff Handley and Tina Laughlin displayed impressive musical blacksmithery, handling the insistent beats and intricate rhythms with fine dexterity and precision.

Burns conducted the American premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Out of Black Dust on the same stage in June of 2009 as part of the CSO’s MusicNOW series. Despite gleaming advocacy by ten brass players and alert direction by Burns, this densely scored, Led Zeppelin-inspired work still feels like Turnage mechanically going through the motions.

Burns remains a terrific musician and his performance of Yan Maresz’s Metallics proved a tour de force.  With his live trumpet playing set against electronic sounds inspired by a variety of mutes, Burns vaulted through a daunting array of technical complexities, from high clarion notes to bass growls, like Fafner emerging from his lair.

The most purely enjoyable work was Stefan Freund’s Metal. The three movements depict the refining process but it is the music’s affection for brass-heavy 1970s pop groups like Chicago and Tower of Power that shines through in this melodic, smartly crafted music, performed with fine panache by Burns and colleagues.

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