Tuesday, May 17, 2022
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Music Nova: A modern spin with classical instruments

Shao Zheng performs “Variations on F.”
Shao Zheng performs “Variations on F.”

Last Thursday evening, White Recital Hall trembled with the breathtaking and startling musical performance entitled “Musica Nova,” part of the Conservatory’s ensemble series. The diverse array of performances was directed by Zhou Long, who recently received a Pulitzer Prize for his incredible opera version of “Madame White Snake.”

“Musica Nova” was an impressive performance showcasing individual talent through solo pieces. Each performer had an accompanist, but it was not the traditional piano to accent each piece. Instead, each accompaniment was a pre-recorded electronic sound, ranging from children laughing to clips of human voice. This modernized spin was often haunting in its content, adding a spooky touch to each piece.

The opening number, “Alter Ego,” was wonderfully played by Carter Enyeart on the cello. The intensity and conviction with which he played mysteriously cast a spell on the audience, who graciously paid their undivided attention whilst trembling on the edge of their seats. “Alter Ego” sounded like a background track for a chase scene in a horror movie. It was exceptionally engaging how the electronic track provided other string instrument sounds, letting Enyeart layer his sultry cello with often dissonant chords. Enyeart’s vibrato during the legato sections was a perfect touch to offset other staccato sections.

“Variations on F,” performed by Shao Zheng, followed Enyeart’s performance. This was not your typical piano piece divided into various movements to exemplify different styles. Instead, “Variations on F” consistently toyed with the root note and nearly every chord was overflowing with dissonance. Many chords begged for resolve, but it was rarely provided. Zheng’s involvement in his performance was evident as he leaned and rocked into the piano while striking the keys with conviction. “Variations on F” never provided a legato melody. It was strictly staccato and mostly discordant, likely puzzling the average listener.

“Icarus Wept,” performed by Keith Benjamin, was the most involved piece of the evening. It was divided into five different sections, and the electronic recording was undoubtedly the most sporadic. There were clips of children laughing, and loud, ambient sounds reminiscent of a plane gearing for takeoff. Benjamin’s dynamics on the trumpet were incredible. For several movements, he used an array of mutes, including Harmon and straight mutes. This fittingly varied the trumpet’s sound to suit the numerous noises incorporated into the accompaniment. Benjamin was involved in his performance, abruptly pausing and shouting things such as, “What the hell was that?!” He moved on stage and would sometimes hop in mock-surprise at some of the startling sounds threaded throughout his solo.

“Canopy for Viola and Electronics,” played by Youming Chen on the viola, called for the lights in White Recital Hall to be considerably dimmed. Pictures were shown on a projector at the back of the stage, and sounds of a hammer against metal provided framework for Chen’s staccato notes. A rainstorm eventually leaked from the speakers as Chen transitioned into a more languid section teeming with vibrato, which showcased the handsome potential of the viola.

The concert continued with “Suite for Summer,” featuring Virginia Q. Backman on the flute, Dietrich Koch on the oboe, Sharra Wagner on the clarinet, Cheng Hu on the violin and Alice Yunlein Huang on the cello. This piece was conducted by Hayes Bunch. The concert concluded with “Selections from 2012 Stories.”

“Musica Nova” was an incredible performance hardly for the light-hearted. The eeriness of the electronic sounds and the dissonance featured in many pieces evoked spookiness and confusion. A showcase of exceptional musicians made this conservatory performance unforgettable.


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