Ear Taxi celebrates a successful mission at Constellation

Mon Oct 10, 2016 at 4:35 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Marta Ptaszynska's "Elegia in Memoria John Paul II" was performed at the Ear Taxi Festival Sunday night at Constellation.
Marta Ptaszynska’s “Elegia in Memoria John Paul II” was performed at the Ear Taxi Festival Sunday night at Constellation.

For the penultimate concert of the wide-ranging Ear Taxi Chicago Festival of New Music Sunday night at Constellation the musical offerings were diverse and mostly interesting in a context that was celebratory and collegial.

There was a sense of “mission accomplished” among the performers and their fans and a party atmosphere with cold pizza and cocktails after the concert.

The peripatetic Augusta Read Thomas, organizer and composer, along with co-curator Stephen Burns (artistic director of Fulcrum Point New Music Project) engaged the audience in an improvised musical tribute to festival manager Reba Cafarelli. She clearly deserved to be feted for a successful five days of musical innovation brought off in multiple venues throughout the city, featuring 88 composers and 54 world premieres.

The concert itself was typical of the enterprise and opened with a flair in a stellar performance by Third Coast Percussion of Marc Mellits’ Gravity for marimbas and vibraphones. Mellits’ music is tonal and accessible, with a six-man ensemble armed with four hammers each making a mighty roar at the opening of the piece. The aggressive opening was succeeded by various moods and rhythms from delicate minimalism to a full chordal ensemble. This dwindles to a single tone, coming back to life with syncopation and purity of sound. More a collection of pieces than anything more cohesive, there is still an abundance of fine music for these instruments and the group was in great form.

Mary Stolper is a welcome fixture at many new music events in Chicago. In Wild Card for flute and piano by Nicole Mitchell she demonstrated her technical strengths in music that is basically Romantic with modernist highlights. Stolper’s performance was matched by the pianist Kuang-Hao Huang in the few sections where the piano is allowed to shine.

Two solo outings followed. Violist Michael Hall was featured in Elegia in Memoria John Paul II by Marta Ptaszynska. This is a mesmerizing, deeply felt composition enhanced by the application of the wide expressive range of the viola. In Hall’s hands, the instrument seemed at times to weep. at other times to dance.

The second and more enigmatic solo work was Christopher Wendell Jones’ Plastic Moment for solo guitar, performed sensitively by James Baur. In structural engineering, the plastic moment is defined as the moment at which the entire cross-section has reached its yield stress. The mechanical qualities of this piece seem to inhabit the notes as they are laid out in random patterns. A sense of stasis dominates, yet the music proved appealing due to Baur’s controlled execution.

The amazing extreme vocalizing of Nina Dante was on display in Aaron Cassidy’s I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips. The artist executes the most complex figurations at the highest speed possible while somehow retaining control of the words. The text is derived from poetry by Rimbaud and Christian Bok yet was quite buried amid the sounds that emerged in weirdly twisted forms and relationships with each other.

Finally an ensemble piece concluded the concert portion of the night of celebration. The Spektral Quartet gave flight to Chicago-based LJ White’s Zin zin zin zin. This piece is inspired by the rapper Mos Def’s improvisations and flowing rhythms. The aggressive nature of the work from the opening triple cheer through demanding and harsh terrain is paramount. A sudden stop demarcates a section where simplicity prevails and a full-bodied tonality emerges. The musicians dominated the piece and brought the concert to a rousing close.

Ear Taxi closes with the CSO’s MusicNow concert 7 p.m. Monday at the Harris Theater. eartaxifestival.com

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