Dal Niente throws an exhilarating and wide-ranging musical party

Sun Nov 16, 2014 at 1:49 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

Ensemble Dal Niente presented four hours of music Saturday night at the Jackson Junge Gallery in Wicker Park.
Ensemble Dal Niente presented four hours of music Saturday night at the Jackson Junge Gallery in Wicker Park.

Ensemble Dal Niente sure knows how to throw a great party.

For four hours Saturday night in the sleek Jackson Junge Gallery on a hip stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, the contemporary music group hosted a rollicking event that was equal parts compelling music-making and lively party chatter. There were fancy sodas and wine for the large crowd, plenty of food to nibble on and art on the walls to peruse.

Arranging the evening into multiple sets, Dal Niente offered 14 works ranging from solo pieces to music for six players plus soprano. Titled “Dal Niente: Party 2014,” the concert’s vibe was relaxed, but the performances were intense and committed.

Finding a good format for contemporary chamber concerts is never easy. The stage setup typically changes for each work, and, from the audience’s standpoint, spending lots of time watching stagehands haul instruments on and off stage can suck the energy out of an evening.

Dal Niente solved that problem by borrowing a format from jazz clubs and clustering the evening into sets, each with two or three pieces. As the musicians rearranged themselves between sets, the audience milled about and chatted. When the music resumed, the chatter died down. No loss of energy, and listeners had time between sets to process the mostly unfamiliar music, some of it complex and very demanding.

There were a few familiar names among the composers. Virtuoso solo pianist Winston Choi found the luminous, lyrical heart of both Thomas Ades’ Traced Overhead and John Adams’ China Gates. Deploying her alluring soprano voice, Carrie Henneman Shaw turned the faintly folk-style melodies of David Lang’s Pay Me Now into a witty demand from a financially savvy lady of the evening. In Augusta Read Thomas’ Capricci, flutist Emma Hospelhorn and clarinetist Zach Good brought joyful ferocity to their musical conversation.

The evening’s newest work was Ashley Fure’s something to hunt, written for alto sax, oboe, bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello and double bass and inspired by the image of a stalking tiger. Dal Niente performed the piece’s world premiere this past summer at the prestigious Darmstadt Summer Course in Germany. Michael Lewanski, one of Dal Niente’s artistic coordinators, conducted Saturday’s performance, expertly balancing the outbursts of raw, rasping cello and growling winds. The musicians played with the alert wariness of endangered animals.

Among other highlights, Greg Beyer’s performance of Alex Lunsqui’s Diogenes’ Lantern mixed the sumptuous, mellow tone of solo marimba with hard-driving, infectious rhythms. George Lewis’ new work The Mangle of Practice for violin and piano started the evening off with exuberantly chaotic squealing and crashing interplay between Choi and violinist MingHuan Xu. The concert’s final piece for large ensemble, Ted Hearne’s Crispy Gentlemen, bristled with individual players clamoring for their place in the spotlight.

On its website, Dal Niente pitched Party 2014 as “the antithesis of listening to music through earbuds plugged into your head as you sit alone staring at a computer screen.”

The evening was also the antithesis of sitting in a formal concert hall listening to music written a century or two ago. Of course, there’s a time and place for that kind of close attention to masterpieces, but gifted young ensembles like Dal Niente are giving us an exhilarating way to experience the music of our own time. Saturday’s audience was mainly young, but a significant number of older listeners were on hand as well. A glass of wine, a hip, casual atmosphere, a chance for easy conversation and an invitation to open your mind and ears to new sights and sounds? Party on!

Posted in Performances

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