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GHOST GUN, VIOLA JOKES, & FOLGERS IN YOUR CUP – A Night of Clever Storytelling with Aperture Duo

In the quiet aftermath of Hurricane Hilary, an adventurous crowd gathered at the intimate Monk Space in Koreatown, fresh out of unexpected hibernation. In return, they were gifted several memorable stories in the form of spiritual guidance from Adrianne Pope & Linnea Powell, the two cornerstones of Aperture Duo.

On the menu were two brand new specials commissioned by the duo and workshopped with the composers in recent weeks, starting with Thomas Kotcheff’s delightful Obbligato String Music No. 1: Allegretto in G Minor. Much more than an appetizer, Thomas masterfully weaves together a series of discordant ideas from vastly different genres, taking the audience for a whirlwind of a journey. One could quickly discover tasteful moments of microtonal dissonance between the violin & viola, as well as between live sounds & pre-recorded samples. Through Aperture Duo’s confident approach to tackle everything from recreating classical standards to accompanying altered versions of the Folgers jingle (a musical stunt that has unsurprisingly generated over $40,000 for the coffee company), we can now begin to see the bigger picture that is the clever collage of eons of compositional techniques and motifs, melting together into a beautiful, hot mess. In a way, the true meaning of obbligato is reinforced by this mesmerizing work, contributing to the inextinguishable lineage of canonical literature while effectively challenging the notion of what is considered pure or fixed in the classical genre. It is through this strange paradox that Kotcheff was able to keep the audience deeply engaged in a dizzying fashion, as we felt the tension of all of his conflicting melodies spiraling into instability, only to find itself pieced together again.

The entrée of the night is most certainly their second commission, Jessie Marino’s incomparable Murder Ballads Volume I: Sister Sister. A departure from her usual works, these ballads showcase a stunning tapestry that revealed the unbreakable trust Pope & Powell hold for one another. Much of the night encouraged Aperture Duo to sing their soulful hearts out, but through these vulnerable, haunting ballads, the two performers were compelled to melt their voices & instruments into a powerful quartet of bagpipe & storytelling. A strong parallel to Kotcheff’s earlier work in the program, Marino continues to explore the concept of time through meaningful libretto meant to stand as timeless. In both the first and last ballad of this four-part song, O Death and Ghost Gun, Marino lit an angry flame under us with her unfiltered, fed-up emotions reflecting on the living state of profitable, senseless violence that is the American gun problem. In a country where we have experienced over 400 mass shootings this year with over four months left, at a terrifying pace greater than two mass shootings a day, the powerful composite of folk harmonies, vivid thoughts, painful overdrive, and screeching feedback left a stinging taste in the mouths of many. While O Death touched upon the national bitterness over the unfair immunity of police brutality, Ghost Gun properly detailed the grave threat of endless violence we face at every corner of our neighborhood, without fail or warning. The inner ballads, Edward and Twa Sisters, are no less powerful than the former, serving as a shocking reminder that while murder isn’t new, its dirty cousin, systemic violence, is a unique weaponized threat to modern society. In Edward, we find an old English elegy full of regret & sorrow, while the tale of Twa Sisters is based on an actual 17th century murder ballad of a girl drowned by her jealous sister. In Marino’s version, however, it isn’t the jealous sister who descends into murder, but rather, the bloody violence of Johnny, transforming into a hexed act that persists to haunt him until the very end. I believe this particular distinction falls in line with the rest of the ballads, emphasizing the radical normalization of systemic violence enacted by people in positions of privilege and power.

From Kotcheff & Marino, we are faithfully presented with the reality of the myriad of pertinent challenges we are facing in an unprecedented climate. From Pope & Powell, we learn that these very real challenges can be faced head on, with limitless imagination. And to the devout followers of Aperture Duo, I believe they are venturing into a new and inimitable realm of contemporary classical excellence.

Join Aperture Duo (Adrianne Pope, violin and Linnea Powell, viola) in an evening of boundary-pushing new music featuring world premieres by Berlin-based composer Jessie Marino and LA-based composer/pianist Thomas Kotcheff. Join LA’s own Aperture Duo as they explore the shiny, surreal, and sometimes scary depths of chamber music for violin and viola.

7:00pm. Tuesday Aug 22, 2023 at Monk Space (4414 W 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90004)