From: John Young <jya@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 2 Feb 1995 13:58:10 -0500
The New York Times
February 2, 1995, p. C20.
Opening Up the Rolls of the Avant-Garde
And like much downtown music, it consciously avoided
beautiful sound in favor of primal thudding drums clanging
metal plates, squawking woodwinds and growling Scelsi-like
brass. Near the end, a percussionist played back distorted
tape fragments of music already heard.
By Alex Ross
The Crosstown Ensemble issued no manifestoes for its
inaugural concert at the New York Academy of Art in
TriBeCa, but one can guess what its founder, the conductor
Eric Grunin, had in mind. Rooted in the downtown musical
avant-garde, Crosstown seeks to broaden its scope by
reaching across town, in a global village sense, to
like-minded European composers of the younger generation
and to established figures of 20th-century musical history.
This is the sort of lively, wideranging prospectus offered
by European groups like the Ensemble Modern. American
new-music ensembles tend to have a narrower outlook
institutionally or ideologically circumscribed. The mere
sight of Crosstown's program on Saturday night was
refreshing: works of established European masters
(Lutoslawksi, Ligeti), a cult figure of the avant-garde
(Giacinto Scelsi), a noted younger Finn (Magnus Lindberg)
and a young American (Norman Yamada). The ensemble did not
always meet the music's extreme demands, but it showed
Mr. Lindberg burst onto the European scene in the late 80's
with "Kraft," a volcanic tone-picture for orchestra and
electronics. "Corrente," written in 1992 and given its
American premiere by Crosstown, repeats the general pattern
of "Kraft," in which scattered, skittering figures are
gathered up into large unison statements. But it also shows
a broad stylistic reach typical of Mr. Lindberg's recent
work: sensual Impressionist imagery, assorted quotations
and, toward the end, plangent melodic lines reminiscent of
Messiaen's great chorales.
The Ligeti piano concerto, completed in 1988, is a
masterpiece of arcane wit, fantastically difficult to play.
In five brief movements, it unleashes a kaleidoscopic
variety of metrical patterns, alternate tunings, harmonic
structures and exotic tone colors. The rhythmic method
shows the influence of Conlon Nancarrow's player-piano
pieces, while the melodic material reaches back to Bartok.
Kathleen Supove executed the solo part with breathtaking
brilliance, but Mr. Grunin and his ensemble failed to
deliver the clear articulation and dancing energy this
cruel score requires.
Lutoslawski's "Slides" is an exhilarating short sketch for
percussion and ensemble; James Pugliese served as a
powerful soloist. The two Scelsi works, "Pranam I and II,"
are paradigmatic of the composer's strikingly original
method. Huge Brucknerian sonorities are altered dissolved
and re-formed by means of slow, shimmering glissandos. Tape
elements, electric organ and mezzo-soprano vocalise
(supplied by Valerie Komar) add to the richness of the
sound, although in this performance the amplification was
Mr. Yamada's new work, "How It Is," had to live up to some
challenging comparisons. It is, however, very much its own
kettle of fish. Unlike other works on the program, it
employed repetitive (although very complex) rhythmic
patterns. And like much downtown music, it consciously
avoided beautiful sound in favor of primal thudding drums
clanging metal plates, squawking woodwinds and growling
Scelsi-like brass. Near the end, a percussionist played
back distorted tape fragments of music already heard.
But Mr. Yamada varied his texture with startling musical
allusions: static, sighing chorales out of Stravinsky's
"Orpheus," a fife-and-drum rendition of Howlin' Wolf's
"Moanin' After Midnight." What it added up to was difficult
to judge on first hearing, but a powerful if undisciplined
imagination made itself felt.