It is a measure of the power of music, in the hands of Contemporaneous, that the silly season engulfing us decamped, wholly vanquished, within the first bars of Vicenti Alexim’s adroit arrangement of Ennio Morricone’s Il triello. The occasion was Contemporaneous’s appearance at Bard’s Summer Music Festival, the focus of which this year is “Puccini and His World.”
Contemporaneous’s ingenious contribution, as described by co-artistic director Dylan Mattingly, was a “sonic intermingling of American and Italian culture,” including both “Italian composers who have influenced American culture [and] works by American composers who have spent time at the American Academy as winners of the prestigious Rome Prize. Call it the long shadow of La fanciulla del West. It is our Spaghetti Western.”
The first of two pieces by David Lang, ark luggage (for soprano and string quartet, 2012), followed Il triello. With Langish wit, the piece limned “92 things Noah took with him during the flood.” Members of Contemporaneous accompanied as Mattingly counted aloud to Michele Kennedy’s lyrically sung naming of soap powder, mirrors, lemons, and all the essentials of post-flood living.
Clara Iannotta’s D’après (for flute (doubling bass flute), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), piano, percussion, violin, viola, cello, 2012), came next. The work is one of a triptych of pieces inspired by cathedral bells in Germany. Iannotta’s cunning use of extended techniques took us on a journey to unexplored places in our aural understanding (though with more than a little competition from the Spiegeltent’s surfeit of ambient noise).
Last before intermission, Rome Prize winner Andrew Norman’s Music in Circles (flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, viola, and cello, 2012) described not only circles, but an exhilarating arc. Violist Josh Henderson rocketed us up to the heights with his aurally and visually mesmerizing, not to mention athletically Olympian, performance. The work’s quietest moments suffered amidst Spiegeltent background noise, and I’ll look forward to hearing Contemporaneous perform Iannotta’s and Norman’s pieces again in better acoustic surroundings.
Yotam Haber’s New Ghetto Music (for full orchestra, voice, and field recordings of Roman cantors from 1950-60 2011), got the second half of the concert off to a dazzling start. From behind us, Finnegan Shanahan approached the orchestra, singing with jazzy panache as he played violin. At the work’s end, flutist Fanny Wyrick-Flax walked to the back of the house and brought the music to a dulcet close. Between times, the orchestra flourished grandly in this big, bold work that brimmed with evocative incident. And how nice it was that Yotam Haber was there to take a well-earned bow.
Dylan Mattingly’s subtle arrangement of Ennio Morricone’s L’arena opened up space that let the elegance of the work’s structure through. Both Mattingly’s arrangement of L’arena and Vicente Alexim’s of Il triello brought fresh aural insights and allowed us to hear these works anew. I’d love to hear these arrangements again, back-to-back, and hear Mattingly and Alexim discuss their approaches.
The concert closed with David Lang’s Simple Song #3 (arranged for chamber orchestra, 2015), which many will know as the Academy Award nominated song from the movie Youth. How marvelous it was to see violinist Sabrina Tabby with Contemporaneous once again to perform the lovely violin accompaniment. Next to her stood guest artist Michele Kennedy, who, in resplendent voice and with regal demeanor, fully inhabited this work. The orchestra accompanied in full concordance, and, together, they brought the concert to a lustrous, brilliant close.
Throughout this extraordinary range of compositions, Contemporaneous’s ensemble work was impeccable. A measure of the excellence of these musicians was also evident in the extent to which superlative solo work abounded: Evan Honse on trumpet, Cameron West on horn, and Vicente Alexim on clarinet, to name but three not already noted here.
And of course there is David Bloom, Contemporaneous’s conductor. What can I say of him that has not already been said? He lights up every room he enters, not only in his balletic precision and unerring musicality, but also in his warmth, grace and, above all, unwavering commitment to create and sustain what has become a beloved musical community.
In its music-making, and consistently over time, Contemporaneous has offered a heady brew of sublime musicianship, sparkling ingenuity, and enveloping generosity of spirit. I don’t know how they do it . . . but then again, I do. It’s not what they do, but who they are. And the radiant ethos of this musical community, its welcoming embrace of each and every listener, remains a constant even as the complement of musicians, inevitably, changes over time.
Thank you, Contemporaneous, for coming home to the Hudson Valley. We are here for you, always, as you have been for us.
Though not as performed or arranged by Contemporaneous and its composers, it’s possible to hear selections from the program here:
Andrew Norman, Music in Circles (excerpt)
Yotam Haber, New Ghetto Music (excerpt) At this link. Don’t miss it!
David Lang, Simple Song #3
Credits: The quotations are from the program notes for the concert. The photographs are by Contemporaneous and Contemporaneous pianist Milena Gligić.