INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Australian MARCH 8, 2011 - by Mark Coughlan
ALL-STARS HIT US WITH THEIR RHYTHM STICK
Perth International Arts Festival: Bang On A Can All-Stars, Bishops Garden, March 4; Perth Concert Hall, March 6.
The Perth Festival's fine music program started and finished with concerts by ensembles that have led important changes in the way music is performed, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Academy Of Ancient Music has played a pivotal role in refreshing the approach to baroque and classical music while the Bang On A Can All-Stars opened up a new trajectory for contemporary music with its fusion of rock and classical traditions. The combination of clarinet, cello, piano, electric guitar, bass and drums gives the All-Stars considerable flexibility, but they are particularly impressive in music with a strong rhythmic drive. This was evident, to varying degrees, in every piece.
In David Lang's ferociously hard-edged Cheating, Lying, Stealing, aggressive stabbing chords cut across an intermittent cello line. Julia Wolfe's Believing was incessantly frenetic until a touching wordless chorale that was sung by ensemble members.
Steve Reich's 2x5 continued in a similar vein with its interlocking rhythmic patterns. The crossover into rock was most pronounced in Stroking Piece #1, by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.
Here the music built to a huge climax, driven relentlessly by a thumping rock beat before disintegrating into free improvisation and fizzing out.
The ensemble playing was vivid and energetic throughout. With the assistance of discreet amplification and carefully graded dynamics, the group had a tremendous sonic presence and incisive articulation. Michael Gordon's For Madeline was the least compelling work, its gently pulsating chords and mournful melody creating a simple yet unmoving effect.
The highlight was Steve Martland's Horses Of Instruction. The other works were complex in detail, yet fairly simple in their organisational structure. Martland, however, while using similar repetitive rhythmic material, created a more dramatically charged and engaging structure that brought the audience to its feet.
Using their own transcription of the original electronic version, the group brought moments of colour and lyricism to the score while never managing to elevate it beyond its intended function of background music.
Fortunately, the concert was held in a beautifully lit city garden so there were other things to contemplate while the music drifted harmlessly by.