Saturday, February 15, 2014

Magik*Magik Plays The Collected

First there were the 19th century Russian composers Rimsky-Korsakov, Musorgsky, Balakirov, Cui, and Borodin called The Five. Then there were the early 20th century French composers Poulenc, Honegger, Auric, Milhaud, Durrey, and Tailleferre who were dubbed Les Six. The 21st Century now has The Collected, a quartet of American composers (above from left to right Brent Miller, Adam Fong flanking violinist Eric km Clark, Denise Gilson, and Lisa Renee Coons). Miller started the group in 2006 and they have been holding occasional collaborative concerts for different performing forces since.

Last Saturday at Old First Church they offered one of their most ambitious concerts so far, with about a dozen members of the marvelous Magik*Magik orchestra, the ensemble started by Minna Choi above, which just celebrated their fifth anniversary with a collection of rock stars at Oakland's Fox Theatre a couple of weeks ago.

Though there was an expert conductor, John Kennedy, the first three pieces required the musicians to listen to each other as intently as a chamber music group. The first piece, Coons' Isolation, had Kennedy standing in the middle of the church with the performers surrounding the audience. Coons notes, "The work is more about listening and responding to one another than the exact notes on the page. This score only acts as a framework for the collaborative listening and gestures of ensemble and conductor." Isolation started tentatively and grew progressively richer and more complex over the next twenty minutes, with the Sensurround experience adding to the fascination.

Gilson's Construction Pieces was essentially a five movement concerto for chamber orchestra and electric violin played by the Los Angeles composer and virtuoso violinist Eric KM (Kenneth Mitchell) Clark that included "through composed, aleotoric and improvisational elements," according to the program notes.

Adam Fong's Concordia Pulls the Sea also required the conductor and the players to closely follow each other's cues, including a set of index cards that conductor Kennedy (below right) used to guide the players through 50 different possible combinations of musical fragments. It was a kick watching the viola player above using his expressive eyebrows to communicate with his fellow players throughout the evening.

The best word I can think of to describe all this music is "brainy," requiring concentrated listening from the audience. There were elements of pure beauty in all three pieces as they alternated between spareness and complexity, and I would gladly hear any of them again just to get a better grasp. The final piece by Brent Miller was a setting of a romantic Octavio Paz poem, Antes del Comienzo, and it was straightforwardly gorgeous. It was written for Miller's wife, Jacqueline Goldgorin (above left) who I have known slightly for a number of years, and it was a happy relief to hear that she has a huge, beautiful, operatic soprano. Writing for voices is a special talent that only a few composers seem to possess, and it is obvious that Miller is one of them. Get to work on an opera, dude.

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