Fearless cellist Kleijn tackles new music that’s more than skin deep

Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 6:04 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Katinka Kleijn performed “Oil-Free Blush” Sunday afternoon, which offered seven wide-ranging world premieres.

As the concluding event of this year’s Humanities Festival–90 events devoted to the subject of “The Body”– dynamic CSO member Katinka Kleijn presented a single work for solo cello commissioned from 7 talented young composers.

The work, entitled Oil-Free Blush challenged each composer to write a 3-5 minute composition “aiming to make the ingredients of an existing make-up blush formula audible.” And while the subject matter was ostensibly political–feminist, ecological and sociological–the actual event was more of a visual and aural celebration of the cello as a physical musicmaker.

Kleijn brought off this solo variety show at the Francis Parker School with aplomb and style. Her imperturbable demeanor tamed even the most outlandish demands of the works. And the young tyros unleashed almost everything that could be directed at and by the cello.

For all the specificity of subject matter–each composer was given the title of a specific blush formula–it was actually quite impossible to follow the program, which was shuffled at the last minute in an auditorium enveloped in total darkness. All one could do was to sit back and take it all in without any expectations or assumptions. And on its own merits the show was a lot of fun.

The brief segments demonstrated quite a variety of compositional attacks. Sebastian Huydts explored the lower tonality and drone-like potential of the cello in an accessible manner, while Marcos Balter, born in 1974, also treated it as an acoustic instrument with a vocabulary of plucking, scraping and shuffling chatter.

It was the third piece, Fragrance, by the youngest composer, Megan Grace Beugger, that took the program into the ionosphere. With laptop electronics as a bed, Kleijn took the cello in hand, upended it, and produced a wild array of sounds by scraping the instrument over objects and soaring and swooping it like some tubby airplane or human torso in a crazy dance.

From then on anything went: Phyllis Chen required the cellist to don a white mask while playing the electronic cello against a soundtrack of creaks and groans sounding like a horror-film than score.

A kind of interlude by Nomi Epstein followed with vaguely foreign vocalizings electronically generated over the cello’s lines, swoops and pizzicatos. Work no. 6 by Pablo Chin played on a pattern of line, pluck and decay, very fitting to the resonance of the cello.

The last piece by Du Yun, a shadowy presence on laptop throughout, was the most extravagant and overtly political, with Kleijn gamely appearing in a gigantic afro wig and accompanying her verbal musings with an in-your-face vocabulary of squeals and screeches.

All this may not have been immortal music, but it certainly showed off a whole new repertoire of sounds and moves that are available to an acoustic instrument in our new world of computer-generated music.

The star of the evening was of course the unflappable, fearless Katinka Kleijn, a champion musician who seems to be capable of just about everything relating to her instrument.

Posted in Performances

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