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Kaleidoscope’s pared-down program of young composers, old and new

The most recent installment of Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra’s fourth season was an intimate program of solo and chamber music by young composers, two living and one from the past. The evening placed new works by Nina Shekhar and Gregor A. Mayrhofer against Schubert’s Oktett in F Major in a paired-down instrumentation that showcased the considerable individual talents within the ensemble. A few extra-musical considerations might have made for a better performance as the degree of informality occasionally risked feeling haphazard, but a distinct musical identity seems to be developing within the ensemble which is promising for the collection of new works they champion.

Opening the evening was Shekhar’s Cajón, a cello solo that (as one might expect from the title) incorporates percussive and modal elements from Indian and Arabic traditions. Shekhar’s writing employed an unforced, effective pacing that wrapped energetic episodes around a tender passage of harmonics. Cellist Clement Chow was excellent: precise and virtuosic, he performed with a sense of improvisatory ownership that was sometimes exploratory, sometimes reflective. Texturally, some moments of Cajón compare easily to Berio’s Sequenza XIV, though Shekhar’s is less impulsive—a sort of “Luciano, drink this water and go to bed, you can tell me about it in the morning” version of his excitable textural superimpositions.  If anything was lost musically, it was only due to the chatty gaggle filtering in from the adjacent theater; the performance itself was clear and engaging.

A significant part of Mayrhofer’s Lageder Oktett was also impacted by the ambient noise, its dramatic dynamic contrasts sheathed in fragmented gossip–a bit like listening to the opening of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony in a single earbud during happy hour at The Thirsty Crow. Still, even the most subtle passages were clearly packed with detail; bouncing bows and wispy tremolo twinkled behind stretching contrapuntal lines in the winds. Delicate solos in the horn highlighted a patient, roaming harmonic language that settled into moments of stunning convergence. Together, the alternation of texture and line unfolded in romantic, fusing undulations that highlighted the dramatic and timbral versatility of the octet.

By the time the Schubert was performed, the peripheral distractions had mostly died down. What the piece lacks in concision it makes up for in charm, which the performers maintained with steadfast focus. In my limited exposure with Kaleidoscope so far, this was their most convincing performance: detail and nuance were attended to, they allowed the piece to breath, and the soloistic passages were virtuosic and engaging. Most of all, a singular vision defined each passage and provided a tight, overarching coherence.  A few moments of pause were rushed over, but the confidence to rest together requires enormous trust and vision within an ensemble. Based on some especially expressive passages and tempo alterations, such trust and shared vision is definitely emerging within Kaleidoscope. And given their commitment to building a repertoire of new works, that is an exciting and promising prospect for the LA new music scene.

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