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2017 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival: Outstanding Performers

In a festival of twenty-first century music, success always depends on the kind of artistic integrity that has characterized good music for centuries.

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Italian Saxophonist Laura Venditti in tech rehearsal for July 14 performance at 2017 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival

[avatar user=”Jean Ballard Terepka” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Jean Ballard Terepka, Music Critic[/avatar]In Concerts 22 – 29 of the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival 2017, a number of performers – composer/performers and individual artists – brought particularly clear examples of artistry, daring, determination and virtuosity to individual pieces and to the project of the festival as a whole.

Italian saxophonist Laura Venditti, equally skilled in baritone, alto and soprano saxophones, playing in pieces by Giovanni Costantini, Zhixin Xu and Giorgio Nottoli (all in Concert 23) and Gustavo Adolfo Delgado (concert 27) proved the versatility of her instrument and of her own artistic sensibility: power, in Venditti’s hands, proved subtle and sensuous. She presupposed both jazz and classical vocabularies, making her voice distinctly her own, even as she played music of different composers in pieces with very different intentions.

Another saxophonist of distinction – who turned out to be a last-minute pinch-hitter – was Ingrid Laubrock who stepped in when Georges Paul was unavailable, and played with Hans Tammen, operating the fixed media recordings, in Georges Paul’s Reflection on Time (concert 24). This piece “aims to rebuild new contexts of reference around the notion of Time by replacing traditionally adopted processes that mediate sound with new ones” and depends for its success on the two artists’ successfully juggling of planned music and improvisation; Laubrock’s saxophone alternately wailed and swooned with confidence, partnering smoothly with Tammen, as though she’d been living with the score since its inception.

Composer Hans Tammen in the foreground, with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrook, performing “Reflections on Time” on July 15 at National Sawdust

If this NYCEMF is reliable evidence, the saxophone proves an instrument frequently matched with fixed media to explore modern and post-modern energies. In Concert 25, brothers Timothy Polashek, composer, and Matthew Polashek on tenor saxophone offered Panic Attack, “an interactive composition for saxophone, electroacoustic sounds, and video that features intense and rapid real-time sonic transformations of the saxophone on stage using computer technology” created by the composer. The looped excerpts of public domain videos featured film noir suspense sequences distorted and interwoven with anxiety inducing, mental manipulating mock documentary 1970’s science experiments; the music, sound and video – relentlessly tough and brutal in their cumulative effect – were unnerving, frightening. It was a masterful presentation of absolute panic.

In Concert 26, in Charles Peck’s Fade, Emily DiAngelo made her oboe eloquent and moving: as the composer used fixed media and recordings of a child’s voice, DiAngelo transformed the oboe not so much into a voice as an invocation of human emotion, of loss, mourning and regret. The piece itself became an examination of transformation, and DiAngelo contributed to its eloquence.

Some composer/performers made physical changes to traditional instruments in addition to performing them on them in traditional ways.

Persian-born pianist and composer Anoush Moazzeni was the solo performer in 2D Spatialized Comprovisations for Piano+ with Robotic Devices. She built additional instrument-pieces onto the piano, and, in performance, combined recorded piano and piano-added music with planned and improvised music. Her purpose was to “unlock a more acute perception of the sonic potential of the instrument within the notion of space in music.”

American cellist Madeleine Shapiro performs on July 15, 2017 at New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust

Moazzeni, in both her intellectual presentation and her artistic offering, successfully revealed pianos’ percussive and zithery elements, and in the course of the performance offered a truly elegant exploration of intersections of the familiar and the unfamiliar, of otherworldliness and home, of delicate menace and comfort. Moazzeni’s concept of “comprovisations” – non-traditional blendings of improvisation and formal composing – merits continued examination and exposure.

In spite of the Festival’s lengthy booklet and daily concert updates, the rich creative vitality of the electroacoustic musical community remains only tangentially documented: composers and performers clearly work in close collaboration. Internationally recognized cellist Madeleine Shapiro, for instance, director of the important NewMusicMannes ensemble at the New School’s Mannes College of Music, is on the NYCEMF 2017 Steering Committee, and performed in several of the 2017 Festival’s concerts. She is clearly the sort of artist who can turn her instrument into both the composers’ muse and their servant. Shaprio’s ability to incorporate the cello’s entire history into its creative use in contemporary classical and experimental music suggests expanded incorporations of cello sounds in new music to contemporary composers.

In Concert 27, the last piece was Doug Geers’ deceptively light – and unexpectedly substantial – Teach Sum, Cheat Sum. The piece couldn’t begin: the equipment kept failing. The composer and several technicians kept fussing, fidgeting and fixing; Shapiro and her colleague Maja Cerar on violin good-heartedly kept trying to begin. And then, at last, the piece worked, and the music – an examination of game and play – was marvelous, animated in large part by Cerar’s and Shapiro’s verve and integrity.

The music of this Festival can’t happen without electricity – computers, machines, speakers and synthesizers – but … equally … it cannot happen without the performers. Many of these, in this recent Festival, were entirely marvelous.

N.B.: Particular pieces from the Festival are considered in three companion-reviews, NYCEMF: Overview, NYCEMF: Composer as Creator, and NYCEMF: Political Protest and Social Justice.

2017 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival: Seven Concerts

July 14: 5:00-6:00, 7:00-9:30

July 15: 3:00-5:00, 7:00-9:30, 10:00-11:00

July 16: 3:00-5:00, 7:00-9:30

National Sawdust, 80 North 6th Street, in Brooklyn

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