ICE(cubed)—Music of Kaija Saariaho at Calderwood Hall

Impressions from Row G
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

A visually and aurally stunning new music space. The rapturous acoustic chamber music of Kaija Saariaho. Virtuoso players Claire Chase (flutes), Tony Arnold (soprano) Nuiko Wadden (harp), David Bowlin (violin), Kivie Cahn-Lipman (cello), Jacob Greenberg (piano), and Nathan Davis (percussion). These essential elements combined to deliver the perfect cube of ICE we anticipated in our preview.

We had a special treat of attending rehearsal in the afternoon to get a head start on learning how music sounds in the hall and to strategize where to sit. We even played a small part by providing feedback to the players from various positions as they assessed how to arrange themselves in each piece.

The program felt as if in two halves. The first half, Miranda’s Lament, Oi Kuvu, Changing Light, Tocar were all reflective, plangent, and shimmering. The second half, Serenatas and Terrestre, were more playful, lively, and joyous.

Miranda’s Lament for soprano, flute, harp, cello, and violin, was a savvy opening choice to show off the virtuosity of the ensemble and the unique features of Calderwood Hall. A song setting text from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda mourns for sailors done in by the storm. The musicians arrayed themselves in a circle in the middle of the stage, affording every audience member a good view of their movements and interactions. The cubic dimensions of the hall provide a rare combination of intimacy and spaciousness. Tony’s singing rang pure and clear, while melding with the sonorous playing of her band mates. We could hear each individual instrument, yet none dominated.

Serenatas for piano, cello, and percussion profited immensely from Calderwood’s unique acoustics. Jacob’s lidless piano and Nathan’s vast battery of percussion instruments issued crystalline clarity of rising sounds without sounding dry or lifeless. Saariaho describes Serenatas as essentially emotional, as if the musicians are lovers playing serenades to each other. Speaking a mysterious non-verbal language, the piano and percussion doubled and mimicked each other, pivoting through Kivie’s cello with fugue-like overlapping lines. Inevitably, melancholy parting comes. The piece ended in spacious waves of farewell.

Terrestre is a chamber-scale reworking of Saariaho’s flute concerto “Aile du songe” for flute, violin, cello, harp, and percussion. The piece was inspired by and incorporates phrases from the Oiseaux (Birds) poems of Saint-John Perse. The flutist must recite these phrases while simultaneously playing. Claire made this complex task seem as child’s play. Indeed it is the childlike joy Claire and colleagues bring to this piece that made it soar. The opening section tells an Aboriginal tale of a charismatic bird who teaches a whole village to dance. Claire’s gymnastic vocalizations and flute playing sparked largely percussive gestures, not only from Nathan, but also from Nuiko, David, and Kivie, framing the terrestrial landscape. For the finale, in the words of Saint-John Perse, “the bird shows us its true nature: a tiny satellite orbiting our planet.” Claire led the ensemble up, up, and fading away into the stratosphere, a sensation greatly enhanced by our unique vantage point in the first balcony.

A small entourage of family and friends joined us for the concert. One of them remarked “it was marvelous to watch and hear this splendid music unfold as conversations between the players and between the instruments.” Calderwood Hall presented a unique setting, while ICE made it all come alive with Kaija Saariaho’s luminous music.

Arlene (acornarlene [at] gmail [dot] com) and Larry (acornled [at] gmail [dot] com)

Listening/Watching Tips:
• Terrestre is the title cut on Claire Chase’s latest CD from New Focus Recordings.

ICE members deciding how to arrange themselves in Calderwood Hall for  Miranda's Lament

ICE members deciding how to arrange themselves in Calderwood Hall for Miranda's Lament