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Posts by Brandon Rolle

Dausgaard with LACO Make the Case for Traditional Programming

On October 27th, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra brought a program of Sibelius, Pärt, Grieg and Nielsen to Glendale’s Alex Theatre. Led by conductor Thomas Dausgaard, the ensemble sounded exceptional—crisp and intimate, but equally able to swell and saturate the hall when needed. Starting the evening with Grieg’s Two Norwegian Airs, Dausgaard demonstrated an immediate and deep connection with the strings, weaving together moments of drama and restraint with impeccable taste and timing. The musicians of LACO must have felt similarly because they met his every move with astounding cohesiveness, not only in the opening airs, but throughout the entire night.

Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto featured Anthony McGill, who brought so much personality to his performance that it was easy to miss the incredible amount of virtuosity required to navigate the clarinet passages. Compositionally, the Nielsen was the most difficult, not so much for its instrumental passages as for its disparate and sometimes confusing layering. But the soloist and ensemble approached even the most impervious moments with a sense of ownership and direction, and as a result the piece offered a fun, if challenging, display of McGill’s incredible technique and musical intuition.

In the second half, Dausgaard (I assume) made the decision to move seamlessly from the patient, meditative iterations of Pärt’s Silouan’s Song into Sibelius’s Symphony No. 3 with such conviction that most of the audience was moved to applaud at the end of the first movement of the symphony assuming the Pärt had contained some hidden inner movement. But the applause was well-justified if misplaced, as the strength of the shared musical ideas between conductor and ensemble was as strong and tight as any I’ve heard. Moreover, the ensemble inhabited the sound world of each piece with an easy confidence that highlighted what a traditional programming format can be at its best: old and new, refined and showy, serious and fun. It was each of those things, with each work standing on its own—greater than the sum of its parts, but not built around supporting a single centerpiece. Had any single piece not been performed so brilliantly, the same program might have felt passively formulaic. Instead it made the case for the formula.

Mälkki Leads Massive Mahler and New Reich at the LA Phil

Thursday was the opening performance of a concert featuring Susanna Mälkki leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the world premiere of Steve Reich’s new work for orchestra, as well as in Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 5. Reich’s Music for Ensemble and Orchestra offered the driving, minimalist soundscape that you might expect from his music. The repeating two-chord pattern in the piano that initiates the piece is revealed occasionally during the ebbs of his thick, sparkling textures, facilitated by Mälkki’s attention to balance and pacing. Reich’s music taps into something so fundamental about why and how we experience musical excitement that any moments of predictability have a friendly familiarity rather than any sense of cliché.

If there was anything to criticize in the performance, it was some slightly opaque moments in the middle; it was difficult to tell whether the performance was dragging or if the piece had written in some details that did not quite translate. It was interesting to see how committed both Mälkki and the musicians were during the Mahler, and while obviously the Mahler calls for much larger forces, I still felt that some of that emotional investment might have benefitted the Reich. In both cases, a few of the, let’s say, weirder moments—particularly during transitions—were allowed to be awkward without an attempt to find some detail or nuance to connect it to the rest of the work. Granted, those passages are in some ways a feature of Mahler, but with a program consisting of only these two works, I would have wished for some defining attention to those moments.

Overall, though, this program balanced ambition with direction in a way only the LA Phil could. It was performed well by the principles and members of the philharmonic, and Mälkki seems to be connecting ever more deeply with the audience here in Los Angeles. If these first few weeks of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 100th season are any indication, this season will be as special as promised.

Joep Beving @ The Lodge Room

Joep Beving’s towering stature and flowing beard command a certain attention that is softened by his charming, slightly awkward, stage demeanor. The Dutch composer/pianist gained a formidable following after the 2015 release of his debut album, Solipsism—a collection of intimately personal music curated into bite-size chunks. Two years later, the release of Prehension suggested a promising development of style; a little more minimalist and a little less Chopin, but maintaining Beving’s accessibility and a more-polished version of his soft-pedal, compressed piano sound throughout. The projects he has since embarked on with Rahi Rezvani (music video), and with the various artists tasked with re-imagining his music on his latest album, Contatus, offer insight into the allure of his sound world: In a time of loaded, impassioned rhetoric, Beving’s offerings are stripped-down journal entries, unencumbered by any specific intention for conclusion or definition.  His music defines its emotional narrative by looking inwards and backwards from within a culture obsessed with pointing outward and forward.

The spirit of his performance at the Lodge Room on October 23rd embraced the branding so carefully promoted by his promoters and reviewers—one of a reflective, if reclusive, lumberjack, plucked from obscurity for his grand resonance among a generation of online music anthropologists. There is certainly some truth to the myth, evidenced by a few especially enthusiastic audience members, but the implication of  his “genius” and the insistence on his role as a bridge to classical music completely misses the mark: the potency of his work lies in its utter simplicity, its transportive removedness from intellectualism, it’s transparency as music for his own enjoyment. The audience connects with Beving because some part of us can imagine ourselves hovering over a late-night piano, repeating a sentimental chord progression with just the right amount of eeriness to perpetually warrant one more pass. Where classical form usually takes us on a journey of discovery, this music lies patiently in wait, attaching to passing feelings and memories before itself moves on.

My difficulty with Beving’s performance is that this type of music doesn’t always lend itself to a full concert by itself. Admittedly, the sound at the Lodge room was excellent, and Beving’s decision to pair groups of pieces together without intermittent applause was smart. The piano could have been cleaner had Beving treated his louder/denser passages with a bit less pedal or reverb, but the larger issue was that in Beving’s sound world, the melody is more an artifact of the chord progression than a vocal-type line that drives the texture and development. This isn’t an issue in itself, but it means that after a while the pieces start to blend together, and the mellow respite quickly becomes a taxing exercise in zazen. There is some (subtle) variety of texture in Beving’s catalogue, but those moments were saved for the final two pieces—one which used live processing to add a warped, nostalgic atmosphere, and another which featured a distinct physicality and momentum through rapidly alternating chords between hands. Those works might have been better placed in the program order to introduce a more interesting overall shape to the concert, but I think the whole performance would have benefitted from additional media—even just some simple accompanying video or audio content from his computers—scattered throughout the evening.

Instead, at moments it felt that the only play borrowed from the “classical” book was the expectation on the audience to sit quietly and pretend to ignore the rumbling from the dishwasher in the back of the bar. For me, that is too much to ask of this set and this music; traditional concert halls are built specially for people who want to participate in that expectation and still those performances fail regularly at curating an ideal concert experience. Moreover, while I appreciate the impulse to suggest  musical credibility through the classical bend of his branding and representation, the relationship of Beving’s music to the classical tradition is surface-level at best; which isn’t at all a criticism (in fact, quite the opposite) but I think many may find the connection an empty and unnecessary gesture (especially given the trend of highly-trained musicians away from “classical” self-branding at the moment). If I see Joep Beving perform again—and I sincerely hope I do—I hope his performance abandons that misguided adoption of classical performance practice and instead finds creative ways to mirror the distinct ambience, intimacy, and reflectiveness of his music. His musical genuineness deseves a concert experience like-mindedly personal.

LA Fest at the Phil: A Los Angeles Story of Modernism and Postmodernism

With this week’s kickoff of LA Fest and the LA Phil’s centennial season, the country’s most ambitious orchestra offered a program reflective of the past, as well as an ambitious glance into the future.

Sandwiched between two modern works, a casual and tight-knit performance of Beethoven’s triple concerto (Op. 56) featured Martin Chalifour on violin, Robert deMaine on Cello, and Joanne Pearce Martin on piano. The soloists conversed easily with a Dudamel-led orchestra, and what the performance may have lacked in theatrical sparkle it gained in a focus that highlighted its more intimate chamber elements. It was a fitting pairing with Esa-Pekka Salonen’s LA Variations, which itself constituted a study of clever orchestrations navigated as only a conductor could, but which was particularly notable for the chamber groupings that evolved within the sizable aggregate forces of his instrumentation. Salonen’s work betrays a deep love for romantic orchestral music, but with a modernist vision that sometimes growls, sometimes shimmers in stunning, delicate, intimacy.

The second half was dedicated to the premiere of Andrew Norman’s Sustain, a monumental work of fresh, forward-looking ritual in the deconstruction of sound. While the sound world of Sustain gives a nod to the mid-century orchestra, the form throughout feels daringly original—not necessarily singular in its approach, but in Norman’s ability to immerse in the hypothetical and, more importantly, to trust in his own musical instincts once there. The result is a music that is nostalgic for a time unknown; a remembering from the future where some fiber of our concert experience remains, becomes sacrosanct, while others dissolve away in the solvent of time and relevance. What remains is something primal in its force and refined in its treatment, a reimagining of how our relationship to communal listening might evolve. I, for one, hope I am around to see that day; to reminisce of Sustain and what came after in a newly-antiquated, corrugated steel shipwreck on the corner of 1st and Grand.

Mark Robson and the Debussy Project at Piano Spheres

Mark Robson and the twelve composers involved in his Debussy Project.

Mark Robson and the twelve composers involved in his Debussy Project.

This week, Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School hosted the latest installment of the Piano Spheres series, a concert by pianist Mark Robson entitled “The Debussy Project.” Specifically, the program placed Debussy’s Douze Etudes against a set of compositions by living composers—each responding in their own way to a particular etude from Debussy’s set.

Robson’s command of the Debussy was stunning: watching his performance, one could get lost in the theater of fingers built into the work. But beneath the virtuosic flurries was a technical mastery that highlighted Debussy’s emphasis on texture, and amplified the orchestral spirit of his piano writing. The simplicity of concept that underpins each etude might have risked sounding like a progression of, well, studies, but in Robson’s hands they provided a window into how various musical materials were treated by Debussy to create a musical language rich with contrast, layers, and detail.

The twelve accompanying composer reactions constituted the second half of the recital, and the range of styles and approaches indicated the degree to which Debussy’s language continues to serve as musical inspiration, continues to provide a bridge between past and future. Some focused on his style: Kotcheff’s work evoked virtuosic and dramatic contrasts, and Ivanova’s explored the commenting, often brash, musical interruptions. Bansal and Kohn both tapped into Debussy’s proclivity for sheathing his musical ideas with layers of sparkling textures—a foregrounding of detail taken to the extreme by Gates, whose piece unfolded flurries and sheets of sound until a final, tender conclusion.

Others focused on exploding those details out of time completely, exploring harmony and texture carefully and without Debussy’s liberated, roaming abandon. Rothman and Gibson used low piano harmonics to create a patient, meditative atmosphere anchored by the resonance of the piano. Norton’s response utilized two pianos (Vicki Ray joined Robson on stage for this) for spacious, overlapping textures that in their freedom managed to capture something of Debussy’s penchant for fleeting sentimentality, that return later as tinted, softly-distorted memories. Also in this vein was Robson’s own reaction, a magic act of sorts, summoning rich timbres and sonorities that moved seamlessly between the piano and electronics.

It might have been interesting to have seen the works paired directly with their inspirational counterpart, but hearing the progression of Debussy’s original twelve etudes in direct sequence, in my opinion, better prepared the audience by giving a framework to identify and appreciate the various types of inspiration and influence employed by the commissioned works. It is rare that a solo piano recital of this length can maintain my interest throughout, but the quality of Robson’s performance and the strength of the music was certainly worthy of the audience’s attention. And from what I could hear in muffled murmurs around the hall between pieces, Piano Spheres has succeeded in building an audience that is willing to give that attention, and which is appreciative of the talent presented.

Mari Kimura, an Introduction

The Los Angeles music scene has gained another powerful force in experimental music. Mari Kimura, a maverick performer, composer, and researcher, came to California this year as Professor of Music in the Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology (ICIT) program at UC Irvine. The position is fitting for Kimura, whose creative work fuses violin performance with research in extended techniques and performative technologies.  As an introduction for our readers who may not be familiar with her work, I sat down with Kimura to talk about her past, current projects, and what she sees on the horizon for modern music.

Kimura is perhaps best known for her groundbreaking work in subharmonics—notes produced at fixed intervals below the fundamental of a violin string. She was the first to discover and master the procedure for producing these tones, but has also composed much of the core literature using the technique. One of her first such compositions, Gemini (1993), uses the distinct sound of both the subharmonic octave and the subharmonic minor third to expand not only the pitch range of the instrument, but also the timbral variety available on the violin.

 

 

The other significant contribution of Kimura’s work is in augmented performance practice. From electro-acoustic works, to intermedia performances, to playing alongside guitar robots, to motion-sensing gloves and bows, there is always an interest in tapping into the physicality of performance, rather than just the sounds. This strain of her work has received major interest from granting foundations and universities, including exhibitions at CCRMA Stanford, a teaching position the Interactive Computer Music Performance program at Juilliard (where Mari has taught since 1998), and a collaboration with IRCAM Paris that evolved into the Future Music Lab of the Atlantic Music Festival.

 

 

 

 

From all of this, you might be surprised to learn how Kimura first came to work with electronic music. As a graduate student coming to the United States to study at Boston University, she had tested out of theory and history and so needed additional classes to satisfy the full-time requirements of her student visa. She enrolled in the only class remaining, Electronic Music, in which she was the only woman, and the only musician. Soon she would be splicing a reel-to-reel project to manipulate a recording of violin pizzicato, and gaining familiarity with early studio synthesizers like the Buchla, ARP and Kurzweil. But until that credit-filling decision, she had no idea electronic music even existed.

Kimura says that it was while listening to the opening of Davidovsky’s Synchronisms, No.6, that something came over her: “That famous G [the opening reversed piano-decay gesture at pitch G5] … I basically kind of fell out of the chair. Oh my god, I thought, I had to do that on the violin.” That last part—”on the violin”—turns out to be an especially important impulse for Kimura, who was not interested in abandoning tradition completely for rotary dials and faders. “I have the best synthesizer in my hands already—the violin—so why should I try to make something that is going to be inferior to that? I would rather process or combine it with something else.”

Beyond the new sounds and methods, her time in the United States was also introducing her to alternative career paths that she had not considered as a classical violinist. In her upbringing, as she puts it, “you are going up the escalator and you do not really look around.” So when Marvin Minsky (a longtime supporter of Kimura’s work and pioneer in artificial intelligence at MIT)  suggested she should start composing, “it sort of took my blinders off, and from there my life got kind of mixed up!” Mixed-up turned out to take the form of continuing her studies at Juilliard, with composition lessons at Columbia with Davidovsky himself.

The composer-performer-researcher trifecta gives Kimura’s music a natural balance rare among contemporary composers. She likens her approach to cooking; sometimes you know exactly what you want and use the exact recipe, but other times “you go to the supermarket with the intention to get fish, so you just talk to the fish guy and ask ‘what is good today?’” Sometimes the fish of the day is an interesting technique, as was the case for her Canon Élastique, which was inspired by the ring modulation effect. And while putting techniques into practice is crucial to her work, Kimura points out that “ideas like that could not be born without the technology.”

As for the future of music, Kimura is still searching and experimenting—she was inspired by a recent visit to the Allosphere, an immersive audio-visual laboratory at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and maintains an active schedule of recitals, research, and collaborations. But perhaps most important for the future is Kimura’s dedication to encouraging and facilitating her colleagues and students through her programs at Future Music Lab, Juilliard, and now at UC Irvine:

I do something nobody else does, but I also notice that there’s no place for me. I found myself with a machete having to clear the road that I am walking, so I thought ‘with other people like myself following me, we can all take machetes and widen the path. And then the people behind us can go faster and further.’ So that’s my thought for doing all this teaching;

I am too late to get wherever we’re going, but I can make the street wider and faster.

 

See below for Mari’s upcoming events, or visit her website for more information, videos, and descriptions of her work.

  • June 22:          Masterclass & presentation at Festival Chigiana, Siena
  • June 25-26:    Masterclasses & recital, Conservatory of Salerno
  • June 27-28:    Masterclass & recital, Conservatory of Sassari, Sardinia
  • June 30:          Recital at the Accademia Reale di Spagna
    •                 Opening ARTESCIENZA Festival, Rome
  • July 1-29:        Director of Future Music Lab, Atlantic Music Festival
  • Aug 11-19:       New Music for Strings Festival, Aarhus, Denmark
  • Aug 20-25:     New Music for Strings Festival , Reykjavik, Iceland
  • September:     Co-producing festival at Tenri Cultural Institute, New York with
    •                Harvestworks Media Arts Center

Aucoin’s “Crossing” at LA Opera Off Grand

On Friday, the LA Opera’s Off Grand initiative hosted a concert version of Matthew Aucoin’s 2015 opera, Crossing. The performance took place at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, with the composer at the podium in front of members of the LA Opera Orchestra, a men’s chorus, and the work’s principal cast. “In-Concert” performances of opera rely to some extent on enlisting the audience’s imagination to fulfill the drama, and this presented some difficulties for a work more contemplative than physical. Among a few misses, however, were dazzling moments brought to life by talented leads.

Looking around the audience during the opening moments of the opera, you might have been surprised to learn that Off Grand’s stated mission is to encourage diversity in music and audience. Any effort to “embody the diversity, pioneering spirit and artistic sensibility unique to Los Angeles through the art of opera” was lost on me—especially when compared with the success of The Industry and the LA Phil to exactly this end (War of the Worlds, in particular, comes to mind). Of course, performing any major new work is an accomplishment in itself, and the audience response suggests that it was an undertaking worth the effort.

Aucoin’s language in Crossing reflects a love for the sprinkled voyeurism of operatic form; from lush swells to anxious minimalist passages, the music oscillates between atmosphere and introspection. There was a fair coherence and smoothness in the progression of material, suspending the audience in a death-stenched tranquility, reflecting the opera’s inspiration from Walt Whitman’s volunteer work with battle-worn soldiers during the Civil War. The emotional palette occasionally felt somewhat two-dimensional, missing the orchestral characters that usually distort, lead, and reflect tacit internal drama in romantic opera. In a full staging, such emotional communication might have been assisted through attention on the choreography, lighting, or stage design, but in this particular performance the messiness of the orchestra obscured the musical and dramatic intention at times.

The principal cast were excellent, with Rod Gilfry (Walt Whitman) and Brenton Ryan (John Wormley) maintaining the storyline with strong performances throughout. Most striking was Davóne Tines’ extraordinary performance as Freddie Stowers—a role he created for the opera’s 2015 premiere. Tines was deeply engaging, with a rich bass-baritone voice, and a sense of musicality both singular and personal. The Messenger comprised the sole female role of the opera, performed by the talented Liv Redpath with soaring soprano lines that aptly marked the concluding sections. A strong chorus of a dozen men complemented the soloists, and together they brought to life Aucoin’s vision of human intimacy and tenderness amid the inhumanity of war.

Sonic Dresses, Prison Letters, and Musical Mosaic under the Green Umbrella

As Pauchi Sasaki and Claire Chase meandered toward stage in darkness from the back of Walt Disney Concert Hall, handheld lights dimly illuminated their dresses. The sparse flickering revealed patchwork sonic robes,  constructed of speaker arrays and emanating curious noises from the far reaches of the hall. Their spatial wandering journeyed patiently towards a flute and violin resting on opposite flanks, corralling our attention towards the stage—a bare landscape minimally ornamented by luminous geometries. Spiraling grains of light dance on the dramatic, escaping curves of the hall’s organ, which only adds to the immense sense of space. Like the staging, the sounds of Sasaki’s “Gama XV” emphasize texture and space, drawing the audience into the quiet details of disembodied speech and sound fragments. In this suspended sound world, time was marked only by the choreography, most of all a brief intersection on stage before scattering outward toward the wings. A few (rare) moments might have betrayed the modes of audio processing, but overall the atmosphere was maintained to stunning effect, culminating in a final, pulsing gesture of sound and visuals.

Admittedly, the marriage of sound, performance, and visual art left me a little saddened to see the stage invaded with chairs and music stands for the following work. This feeling dissolved quickly, though, as high-octane bass lines drove the shifting, minimalist tapestry of Frederic Rzewski’s “Coming Together.” Continuing in the theme of evolving textures, Rzewski sets the text of a prisoner letter from the Attica prison rebellion; in a sort of cyclic re-synthesis, new passages of text and music intersect with each pass. Dudamel led the LA Phil New Music Group in an effective performance, behind narrator Davóne Tines who enraptured the audience with the weighty tone and intelligent nuances in his voice.  The second section, “Attica” offered a gentle, somber antidote to the first movement’s relentless and fragmented energy.

After an intermission to digest the mysteries of sound garments and a long ride in a fast machine, we return to Ted Hearne’s “Law of Mosaics.” Musical excerpts are divorced from their original context before being reimagined, layered, distorted and stretched by Hearne. The results are complicated transformations that yield a completely new sound world. But while “Law of Mosaics” clearly draws inspiration from the standard repertoire, in it’s DNA lies a formal cleverness and self-awareness akin to Johannes Kreidler—an aspect highlighted by the projecting of descriptive section titles during the performance. Written for string ensemble, Dudamel once again led a clear and controlled performance here, though the gritty interjections of the final section were allowed to relish in all their wildness for a dramatic conclusion.

I found all three pieces to be unusually memorable, and was left with a sense that the concert as a whole balanced being intimate and casual while ambitiously modern. The choice to break traditional performance practice with the very first piece helped the rest of the evening feel exploratory and inviting. Perhaps more than anything, the programming allowed us to explore, to feel, but then reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously; that great art can come from unexpected places and processes, even from breaking apart the very canon and conventions the classical concert hall so reveres.

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.

Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra with Schoenberg and Competition Premieres

Music stands and couches ornamented the floor of the spacious Los Angeles Theater Center on Saturday night. The breaking-down of a formal performance space allowed the audience to mill around, taking in the scattered spoiler of instruments warming up while gazing on the building’s marble boundaries. A bar nestled into the far corner helped encourage curious roaming behind a vague suggestion of stage, and the casually awkward pre-concert discussion conveyed a sense of heartfelt “we’re glad you’re here”-ness.  Taken together, the whole atmosphere had a communal spirit—one that begins with Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra‘s self-branding as a conductor-less chamber orchestra and extends into their significant educational and artistic outreach.

Many things felt right. Among them, the location and late start time gave a feeling of entering a musical petting zoo buried on South Spring street. Both before and after the concert I noticed dozens of passer-byes stopping, poking their head in, trying to understand what was happening behind the shiny glass doors. The fact that inside was a musical gathering of palpable informality was made even cooler by the idea one might have walked right by it were their head buried in their phone. But our heads were up, for the moment, and our reward was a peek under the lid of this strange buried treasure in the neon-blue depths of downtown.

In fact, many of the details of the evening were so thoughtful: The audio mix in the first half, the layout of the ensemble and equipment, the programs (save a few typos) and promotional materials were all very good. The Sandbox Percussion Quartet were excellent, both in Viet Cuong’s Re(new)al with Kaleidoscope, and as solo quartet on Aart Strootman’s Requiem Apoidea. That first half, in particular, had a sense of musical impetus and vision stemming from the quartet—simultaneously mindful and theatrical. Besides their ecological commonalities, Strootman’s work was reflective and ritualistic where Cuong’s employed a linear, at times post-minimalist, language. In both cases, the music, performance, and environment were integrated to feel fresh, young, decidedly anti-stuffy.

The second half, for me, demonstrated one of the challenges inherent to any an ensemble sourcing artistic vision from the whole ensemble rather than a single musical director: incoherence. It was clear that there were talented musicians on stage who had spent time rehearsing together, but for both Alyssa Weinberg’s Title TBD and Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No.1, the music would have benefited from a unifying interpretation, a unifying set of ears to balance, a unifying set of emotions to feel and respond to the room. The vision and physicality conveyed by Sandbox Percussion on the first half led the ensemble into realizing musical ideas with a sense of coherence and inevitability. That sense was noticeably missing from these final two works—works which were, more than most, reliant on that very nuance. How to develop clarity and detail as a group is tricky for any ensemble, especially one that emphasizes such a democratic artistic process. The takeaway from my first experience with Kaleidoscope? It will not be my last: it was entertaining and unpretentious and fresh. Add to that their philosophy and ambitious programming for this season, I can say for sure I’ll be there rooting for them.