Anaphora offers an engaging survey of music by Chicago composers

Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Sarah J. Ritch’ Strange Attractions was heard in its world premiere Sunday night by Anaphora.

Anaphora was formed in 2008 as an ensemble dedicated to the performance of new (and some not-so-new) music in smaller environments such as Uptown’s funky Green Mill jazz club. It was at that club Sunday night that they offered their second annual Sounds of Chicago program, presenting the compositions of five musicians who have chosen to live and work here. The concert was well-attended and well-executed, which raises hopes that we will have a third one next year.

The program opened with an early composition by Chicago native and new-music promoter Seth Bousted dating from 2001 and scored for clarinet, piano, violin and cello. Three contrasting movements give the work its title—Dissonance Still Talking—and while the clarinet tended to take the lead at first, there were some opportunities for the piano’s more aggressive chordal sound and some very extended lines for the strings. The work was at times jaunty and at other times reflective, strong but never overbearing, with just enough thematic interest to remain accessible throughout. The fine performers were Richard Zili, clarinetist, Sang Mee Lee, violinist, Sara Sitzer, cellist and Daniel Schlosberg, pianist.

In Shadows, written for clarinet, violin, viola and cello, Russian-born University of Chicago-based composer Ilya Levinson took as the inspiration for his work a series of remarkable found-object sculptures by Herbert George which the artist named Shadow as Volume/Shadow Still Lifes. Enlarged photos of several works from the series were displayed on the stage during the performance. But whatever the inspiration, the music was interesting for the nervous energy in the strings with their swooping slurs, tremolos and atmospheric shivering. That energy was reflected in the clarinet part, played by Cory Tiffin, which veered from Copland-esque to austerely atonal and was especially important in holding together the work’s eventful and surprising five movements. The other performers were Paul Ghica, cellist, violinist Lee and Alex Smith, violist.

George Flynn, the legendary Chicago-based composer/pianist/activist is no stranger to the Green Mill, having curated and performed there often. His early (1988) Diversions for winds (2 flutes, clarinet, oboe and bassoon) is quite genial for this sometimes demanding composer known especially for his towering piano works. Heard here for the first time as a three-movement entity, this chamber piece makes the most of the rich harmonic and soloistic textures available from the unique combination of instruments. It also helped that the performers (Emma Gerstein and Allie Deaver flautists, Hanna Sterba, bassoonist, Jonathan Thompson, oboist and Zili on clarinet) are first-rate musicians and clicked as a chamber ensemble.

Brazilian-born composer now in residence at Columbia College, Marcos Balter was represented by an earlier work, a vis, written in 2007 for violin and clarinet (played here by Aurelien Pederzoli and Tiffin). Sometimes moody and otherworldly, playful and emotive, Balter’s music is unclassifiable but in this short work proved quite enjoyable. The technical complexities were tossed off with panache by the two instrumentalists.

Sarah J. Ritch’s world premiere offering Strange Attractions shows this composer at her most beguiling. The work is scored for clarinet and percussion, the percussion being two vibraphones and occasional whacks on a bass drum. The work is derived from mathematical theory turned into an attractive musical construction that has a minimalist feel to it as it balances stasis with change through the intersection of two contrasting but ingratiating sound patterns. The music is full of sonic pleasures; like a minimalist take on Baroque music it rushes forward irrepressibly and finds variety within a repetitive structure. The two percussionists were Christopher G. Jones and Becca Laurito with Tiffin again on clarinet. Ritch’s Strange Attractions deserves to be widely heard and performed.

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