ACM serves up a bracing Brazilian program

Fri Oct 31, 2014 at 3:48 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Edson Zampronha's "Melodia" was performed by ACM Thursday night at Instituto Cervantes.
Edson Zampronha’s “Melodia” was performed by ACM Thursday night at Instituto Cervantes.

Under the direction of its tireless executive director Seth Boustead, Access Contemporary Music seems to be everywhere this past month.

One of the most user-friendly of Chicago’s new-music groups, ACM offered an evening of Brazilian music Thursday night. The same “Composer Alive” program was presented by ACM last year, yet this encore performance proved apt, taking place at the Instituto Cervantes, as part of the ongoing Latino Music Festival.

Though running just an hour, the music performed by the Palomar ensemble offered plenty to chew on, making for an intriguing sampler of contemporary Brazilian composers.

Brazil by way of Chicago, that is, for two works by longtime Chicago resident Marcos Balter. His Bagatelle for solo piano led off the evening and set the right inviting note, Sebastian Huydts evoking the spare lyricism of this wistful piano miniature.

A tougher side of Balter was heard with delete/control/option. Scored for alto flute and cello, the work reflects “the incongruities between voluntary and involuntary actions,” says the composer. The music begins with quiet, rustling sounds closely aligned for the two instruments, with breathy flutter-tonguing for the flute and high tremolo in the cello. A hushed, uneasy insistence predominates with the cellist called to drum her fingers on the front of her instrument. The music accelerates and the flute phrases become more elaborate and virtuosic, ending with a brilliant final flourish. Committed playing by flutist Trevor Watkin and cellist Alyson Berger made a strong case for Bakter’s music.

Clarice Assad’s nostalgic Last Song was heard in an arrangement for cello and piano by Ondrej Vesely. Here the advocacy was more uneven with Berger’s wayward cello intonation not quite on the same level as Huydts’ elegant and polished piano playing.

TOY by Alexandre Lunsqui is an ACM commission. Scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, it was inspired by the image of a child violently destroying his toy. Sharp, violent, jagged fragments leap loudly from instrument to instrument. And that’s pretty much it, with some shifting syncopations and tempo contrasts, scraping of the piano keys and cochlea-piercing flute notes. The musicians offered an energetic performance of a rather empty, gestural work.

More substantive was music of Edson Zampronha and Liduino Pitombeira.

Zampronha’s Melodia (here for five players) is technically an improvisational work with the score a seemingly baffling diagram of cabbalistic circles and squares. Yet this hierarchically layered work—the ad libitum element on top and the melody below–sounds like a completely notated piece and Zampronha avoids the directionless meandering of many improvisational works. A kind of discordant solace pervades the music, which is lyrical, even pastoral at times yet with a stark modern edge. All the musicians provided sterling advocacy especially Huydts’ nuanced keyboard work.

Pitombeira’s Brazilian Landscapes No. 1 was striking for unapologetically mining some of the musical elements of his country while avoiding postcard pastiche. Cast in three movements, this trio for violin, cello and piano begins with a fast, frenetic “Carmo” offering the strong flavor of Brazilian dance, the changes of meter and mood including an evocative cello solo. The central “Calado” is pensive and searching with a high lying cantilena for violin, well played by Jeff Yang. The “Ponteio” finale deftly veers between insistent rhythmic impetus and more inward sections, building cumulative momentum to a fiery and brilliant coda.

Pitombeira’s trio is a finely crafted, highly effective and enjoyable work and received full-tilt advocacy by Yang, Berger and Huydts.

ACM’s next “Composer Alive” program will take place January 23 with the first installment of a new work  by a Polish composer to be announced Saturday.

The Latino Music Festival continues through December 6.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “ACM serves up a bracing Brazilian program”

  1. Posted Oct 31, 2014 at 6:13 pm by Alexandre Lunsqui

    That’s what I call an empty, rather ignorant review.

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