Less proves to be more with eighth blackbird’s Minimalist program at MCA

Fri Mar 23, 2012 at 9:50 am

By Wynne Delacoma

“The Matter of Time” by Richard Serra, 2005.

Leave it to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the innovation chamber ensemble eighth blackbird to come up with a set of concerts that vividly complements one of the museum’s current exhibits.

Minimalism and post-minimalism are the focus of “The Language of Less (Then and Now),” an MCA exhibit featuring pieces from the 1950s and 1960s by such artists as Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra as well as newer works by younger artists. Wrestling with concepts raised by the exhibit, eighth blackbird looked at musical minimalism. In the music world, does “less” mean fewer notes, softer dynamics, shorter phrases? Does “more” mean longer, faster, louder?

On Thursday night the six-member ensemble explored the first part of that riddle in a tightly paced, invigorating concert titled “The Music of Less.” (They look at the flip side with “The Music of More” on Saturday.) Repertoire ranged from the hectic, mesmerizing repetitions of Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion from 1969 to Alvin Lucier’s unnervingly intense Fidelio Trio, a 1987 piece in which violin (Yvonne Lam), cello (Nicholas Photinos) and piano (Lisa Kaplan) intone the same, single note.

Morton Feldman’s Durations 1 for alto flute (Tim Monro), violin, cello and piano from 1960 was an engrossing study in the power of delicate, seemingly random, conversation among musicians. In Caleb Burhans’ Lullaby for Madeline, written for solo marimba in 2008, Matthew Duvall added lyrical sweep to the sense of enveloping stillness.

There was nothing quiet about Jacob TV’s Body of Your Dreams, a comically raucous concoction from 2003 that blended solo piano and mashed-up audio clips of a strident TV commercial. Following the stuttering rhythms and jagged pitches of the overwrought speakers, Kaplan pounded through her short, flamboyant phrases like a joyful jackhammer. In Timo Andres’ Crashing through Fences, composed in 2009, Monro’s piccolo and Duvall’s glockenspiel deftly traded musical ideas. Their clear, ringing high melodies lingering seductively in the air, but periodic crashes from drums they controlled with foot pedals added a sense of impending danger.

No matter what the musical configuration, the eighth blackbird musicians are always highly attuned to one another. In the evening’s works for full sextet—Glass’ Similar Motion and a three-movement piece by David Lang from 2007, these broken wings—the combination of acute attentiveness and confident spontaneity was remarkable. Clarinetist Michael J. Maccaferri was an especially cheerful voice in Lang’s final, uptempo movement.

Less literally becomes more with back-to-back concerts on Saturday. Eighth blackbird performs “The Music of More,” a kind of oversized twin to Thursday’s program, at 7:30 p.m. Repertoire will include pieces by Fabian Svensson, Amy Kirsten, Kurt Rohde, Bruno Mantovani and Andy Akiho, all written between 2009 and 2011. They also will play two etudes for solo piano composed by Gyorgy Ligeti in 1985-1994 in a new arrangement for sextet.

At 10 p.m. two dozen or so Chicago musicians will join eighth blackbird on the MCA stage for a performance of Terry Riley’s seminal 1964 work, In C.  Talk about taking minimalism to the max. 312-397-4010. eighthblackbird.com

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