Souvenirs Musicaux de Paris—Georges Aperghis and the New Generation

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

We’re still pouting that ICE went to Paris earlier this month and we couldn’t tag along. But they cheered us up considerably by bringing back some exciting souvenirs.

Soprano Tony Arnold set the context for the weekend in her Friday afternoon solo turn at Corbett vs. Dempsey art gallery. In Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III, she unleashed an onslaught of lovely gibberish, wordless gestures, laughs, and hand-horn yodels, frequently using her opened palm like a wah-wah pedal. It was a gorgeous frenzy, ending “. . . to sleep.” Tony explained that Berio launched a “new vocalism” that freed the voice for the future. She then demonstrated the fruit it has borne from composers like Aperghis with two selections from his Recitations for solo soprano. The Aperghis songs were wrapped around music from Fredrick Gifford’s work in process, 100 Not-Songs for John Cage, which he is writing for Tony in celebration of the Cage centennial. We are always astonished by Tony’s artistry, but her singing these demanding pieces a capella was an unimaginable high-wire act of grace and apparent ease.

On Saturday at MCA, ICE presented a roller-coaster ride of challenging works by Aperghis and promising young ICElab composers Juan Pablo Carreñoand Patricia Alessandrini. Like Aperghis, Patricia and Juan Pablo are émigré residents of Paris, lending a City-of-Lights aura to the evening.

The first offering was a surprise amuse oreille, Aperghis’ The Illiad and The Odyssey. These sprightly miniatures were deftly play by violinist Erik Carlson and clarinetist Joshua Rubin (who are also members of the New York Miniaturist Ensemble). This was followed by Aperghis’ Signaux, the piece we found the most inscrutable of the evening. Erik returned with David Bowlin on violin and Wendy Richman and Maiya Papach on viola. A crazy fractured fugue, the players chase and never quite catch each other. Arlene thought it sounded like a Suzuki recital. Larry read it as four fellow alums stumbling through a funhouse hall of mirrors struggling to sing their Alma Mater.

Juan Pablo’s Golpe en el Diafagma brought 15 players and guest conductor Ludovic Morlot to the stage. This assertive piece featured relentless throbbing in a legion of bass register instruments, punctuated by upper register shrieks and calls from the piccolo, oboe, and violin. We were particularly impressed by the very aggressive bowing and plucking techniques required in the cellos and double bass. Changing moods, Patricia’s Omaggio a Berio lulled us with lovely calm serenity. Six musicians gathered ‘round the lidless piano, using it as a shared instrument and resonator box. They alternately played, hummed, and softly moan-sung Patricia’s haunting melody. The most striking sounds came from Nathan Davis using his mallets directly on the piano strings. It was thrilling to have both Patricia and Juan Pablo in attendance for these premieres.

The centerpiece of the concert was the Chicago premiere of Aperghis’ Shot in the Dark, an ICE commission for solo soprano and a 16-piece chamber orchestra, with Ludovic conducting. Tony led the way in a frantic whisper “. . . behind my head . . . upon midnight . . . helter skelter . . .” The orchestra followed in a long descending figure. Then the central focus swirled about in a manic dreamscape of multiple disconnected threads of anger, surprise, fear, bravado. Aperghis musically captured the nature of the universe: unstable, lacking any fixed reality, everything in overlapping cycles of growth and decay. Suddenly, the piece quietly culminated in a lovely rising solo melody on the piano.