Archive for March, 2009

Richard Serras Wrights Triangle (1978)

Richard Serra, Wright's Triangle (1978)

When I drove up to Vancouver a couple of weeks back for the Ives Ensemble performance I turned out to have left home too early.  I wasn’t going to be able to check into my hotel into 4pm and it was looking like I’d arrive around 2:30.  I realized this right as I was nearing Bellingham, which is less than a half an hour to the US/Canada Border.  Western Washington University is located in Bellingham and this university was very familiar to me as it was the closest University to where I grew up. I was involved in debate in high school which required a lot of research and the WWU library was a frequent destination. Additionally I attended an intensive debate camp there for several summers.  So I knew that they had extensive public art there and I’d just read on  a “best PNW art” that the Richard Serra there was one of his first major commissions. I recall a number of occasions during debate camp that we’d lie on the bricks inside the double triangles of this large sculpture, escaping the other students for some time.  Since that time I’ve become rather taken with Serra’s art after seeing his new piece at Seattle’s Olympic Sclupture Park and seeing his episode in the Art:21 series. This confluence of events caused me to amend my plans and spend a couple of hours with WWU’s public art.

Nancy Holt , Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings (1977-78)

Nancy Holt , Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings (1977-78)

It was a perfect late winter day for rambling around a university campus looking and photographing art – clear, sunny and crisp. I drove up to the campus visitor’s center where I was able to pick up a nice guide to their public art (which you can check out online) and purchase a two hour parking permit. I parked in a centrally located lot and set out on the South Campus walking tour.  One of the great features of public art is that unlike most galleries you are free to photograph it.  There has been a few recent cases of artists or institutions trying to secure some sort of control over this but it is a fools game. In the main most public art is installed by the public, for the public and its imagine also belongs to the public.  One of the major attractions to me of public art is that a given piece can succeed as a subject, a framing device,  for its textural properties and so on, far beyond its qualities in and of itself.  As I wandered around Western checking out the various pieces I’d attempted to document them as a piece of art but to also investigate their various properties as a subject for photography. The most enjoyable pieces of course succeed in both aspects and likewise the least enjoyable fail at both.  Nancy Holt’s Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings is one of those that I both enjoyed in and of itself, its form of interlocking rings evoking such structures as Stonehenge while its external form and rough stonework ancient burial structures such as those at Brú na Bóinne in Ireland.

Robert Morris  Untitled (Steam Work for Bellingham), (1971, Installed 1974)

Robert Morris, Untitled (Steam Work for Bellingham), (1971, Installed 1974)

Right nearby Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings was Robert Morris’s Untitled (Steam Work for Bellingham) which was basically an enclosed square of stone from which steam was supposed to emanate.  While it is unfair to judge it not in operation I think that it raises questions of its implications in this state.  This is another factor to be included along with those listed by the artist: “Chance and environmental factors such as sunshine, wind, and fog affect the forms of the artist’s material of steam.”  From a distance though the piece does open up, almost looking like a gray Jackson Pollock lying amongst the grass. See the online guide for an image of it in full steam.  These first few pieces were located on the outskirts of the central campus area but now my walking tour turned toward the center of campus were there are several sections with a pretty high density of artworks.  I didn’t spend too much time with Bruce Naumann’s Stadium Piece as its evocation of the seating area of a sports stadium didn’t do much for me (but see the picture of it at night in Westerns online guide) but not too far away were Beverly Pepper’s Normanno Wedge (1980) and Normanno Column, (1979-80) which I found a lot more appealing. While not startling one as a reinvention of public art, these fit beautifully into the campus environment and their concern with more elemental forms contrasts nicely with the trees that would have once filled this valley and as an abstraction of the totem poles of the regions original inhabitants.

Lloyd Hamrol, Log Ramps, (1974; reconstructed 1983 and 1995)

Lloyd Hamrol, Log Ramps, (1974; reconstructed 1983 and 1995)

Most of these pieces that I’ve encountered so far are all ones I was fairly familiar with, though it was nice to reacquaint myself with them from my current context.  While I was somewhat interested in art as a teen my appreciation and knowledge has certainly grown over the years.  In-between the two Pepper pieces was a new installation, Tom Otterness Feats of Strength (1999) which I had not previously experienced. This charming piece of art was a dozen or so cartoony figures engaged with various rocks in in various contexts in an open plaza.  The tiny-ness of the figures contrasted with the obvious weight and scale of the rocks directly demonstrates the strength and the whimsy belies a metaphor of man’s interaction with the bones of our planet.  The plaza where these figures were located was a bit off of the main drag and seemed to accumulate students talking on cell phones who no longer even see the art.  Just around the corner from this area is Lloyd Hamrol’s, Log Ramps, another familiar piece that honestly I’ve never been overly taken with.  it is four large triangles forming an open pyramid, made up of rough hewn logs painted a uniform dark brown.  While the logs may evoke the PNW’s copious forests and timber industries and the simple forms perhaps the betrayal of nature this has never been a piece that has said much to me. On this day a student was perched on one side of it reading a book and talking on his cell phone.  Another feature of public art (I think of all of the people sitting in the shade of the Calder in the Olympic Sculpture Park) and one that this piece has certainly provided ample opportunities for.
Richard Serra, Wrights Triangle (1978)

Richard Serra, Wright's Triangle (1978)

Just around the corner from Log Ramps is the Serra that original inspired this visit.  A piece I am quite familiar with, this time I was looking at it as a thing in and of itself and not as a structure located at this confluence of campus paths. It feels almost constrained in-between the buildings here, almost serving the traffic flow purpose of an island in a residential street.  The openings at each corner are easy to slip into, but not mammoth and on the inside of the sculpture there is a double wall on one edge of the triangle.  The wall serves as canvas to the sun as pictured above and also (also) the the graffiti of the students which you can see only as a faint residue.  The paths were aswarm with students as I reached this point, out on a nice day at the end of classes or moving between the northern and southern sections of campus but inside I was alone and cut off from their activity.  This triangular sculpture isn’t one of the epically huge Serra’s but it fits right into its space and is definitely one of the highlights of Westerns collections.
Alice Aycock, The Islands of the Rose Apple Tree Surrounded by the Oceans of the World for You, Oh My Darling (1987)
Alice Aycock, The Islands of the Rose Apple Tree Surrounded by the Oceans of the World for You, Oh My Darling (1987)

Taking the path to the west from Wright’s Triangle,  you come to the unwieldy named The Islands of the Rose Apple Tree Surrounded by the Oceans of the World for You, Oh My Darling by Alice Aycock. Another piece I was heretofore unfamiliar with, I liked this one a lot. A strangely shaped and compared to most sculptures, quite flat cement object embedded in the ground. It evokes a fountain and it indeed seems to be able to sculpt water and yet it isn’t a fountain. The cryptic symbols and patterns on its surface provide much to ponder and also are brilliant subjects for carefully cropped photos. Near this piece was Meg Webster’s, Untitled (1990) which I can’t recall having seen before, but considering that it was a depression in the ground overgrown with vines, I perhaps may have just never noticed it. I wasn’t overly impressed on this occasion, an example of a piece that fails as an object and as a subject, you’ll have to turn to the online guide for an image of it.

Isamu Noguchi, Skyviewing Sculpture, 1969

Isamu Noguchi, Skyviewing Sculpture (1969)

Backtracking to the Serra, I then took the main path to the campus’s Red Square which contains Isamu Noguchi’s  Skyviewing Sculpture. One of the earliest additions to the collections and one of the most visible being located in the central square this is certainly one which I’ve known and liked for a long time.  I’ve always been rather attracted to geometric solids and platonic ideals constantly drawing spheres, hypercubes and other shapes in my youth. I particularly enjoyed cutout solids like this and I certainly recall appreciating the elegance of this piece even as a surly teen.  Likewise this is another great subject for photography as it casts great shadows and has many pleasant edges and features for unique framing’s. Like Noguchi I also enjoy circular windows and their framing potential. Around red square and environs are several other pieces two of which again evoke totem poles; Scepter, the third sculpture installed on campus from WWW alum Steve Tibbetts and Norman Warsinske’s Totem, the second piece in Westerns collection.   Against a wall that leads away from red square is another Norman Warsinske piece, the mandala like Wall Relief.  In a secluded square, past Totem is the large rusted steel India, installed in 1976 by sculpture Anthony Caro. This piece is like a pile of steel, haphazardly stacked, perhaps as a discard or in the process of clearing a space. Later someone, perhaps an exploring kid or a bored night watchmen, stacks them up a bit, then losing interest they remain that way to rust away.  The connection to India is not immediately clear, though the guidebook indicates that it is a reference to the layered nature of much of the architecture on the sub-continent. This is one of those pieces that really revel in its dimensionality and offers unique perspectives from all angles. In the waning light of my visit, its angles and shadows added an extra element.

Anthony Caro India (1976)

Anthony Caro India (1976)

The tour is now on its northern extents and the pieces are a bit more spread out.  On the edge of a secluded field a ways past India is the sculpture that sticks out most in my mind from my youth. Richard Beyer’s The Man Who Used to Hunt Cougars for Bounty (1972).  This stone sculpture of a man with what looks like a large bear in in his lap has his head thrown back in emotion was know colloquially as “man fucks bear”.  Just look at it. Walking across the field one encounters a large metal box that one can walk through, Donald Judd’s Untitled (1982).  A metal box with dividers inside it that angle as one walks through it so that it either narrows or widens depending on your entry.  A bit of a walk from here on the far northern end of the tour is Robert Maki’s Curve/Diagonal (1976-79).  This curved sheet metal piece works beautifully with the shadows and light and while I only saw it in the late, late afternoon, it clearly would change aspects throughout the day.

Mark di Suvero, For Handel (1975)

Mark di Suvero, For Handel (1975)

As I began to loop back to where I had parked I walked past Western’s largest and probably most iconic sculpture, Mark di Suvero’s For Handel. This large red knotted steel girders perhaps evokes all that people disdain in perceived excesses of modern art and in and of itself I find this piece rather empty. However it interacts in the space that it has been place in quite a few interesting way. The play of the sunlight upon it and shadows its casts, its framing aspects of the buildings that surround it and most strikingly its bright primal colors against a stark blue sky. Apart from this it is a great subject for photography with all of its various angles, shapes and framing elements. di Suvero’s love of music and the placement of this piece near the music hall gave this piece its rather hard to fathom dedication to Handel. I was now running seriously behind time and would have to hustle to get up to Vancouver for the concert. Still I spent a few minutes with the remaining pieces that lined my path back to my car. There were two pieces installed just inside the library entrance, Scott Burton’s Two-Part Chairs, Right Angle Version (a Pair) a rather uninspiring (and uncomfortable looking) pair of rough hewn granite chairs.  Just up the libraries stairs from these was the much more interesting clock like Mindseye by Mark di Suvero working in a much smaller scale then his epic Handel. Back outside and walking behind the library was Mia Westerlund Roosen’s Flank II (1978). This piece is basically two triangular prisms made of concrete enclosed in a copper casing stacked on each other.  The effects of time on the piece are by far the most interesting aspects of the piece as its form and placement don’t do much for me.

The light was definitely well faded at this point and I was about an hour past the time on my parking permit so I made my way out of Western at a pretty fast clip. I did swing by  James FitzGerald’s Rain Forest, which was WWU’s first sculpture which was deep in the shadows and my photos didn’t come out. There is a good picture of this fountain (actually running as well which it wasn’t on this day) in the online guide. After this I quickly left campus and made my way up to Vancouver for the show. I made it with about five minutes to spare.  There were I think four pieces in Westerns vast collection that I didn’t see, these were all out in more far flung locations which would have cost me too much time to have seen. Another reason to return to this magnificent collection. You can see all of my photos I’ve uploaded from the collection in my WWU Public Art group on Flickr.

By the arts building is a little patio bordered by a small cove of trees.  This area had numerous instances of  student art, my favorite of which was this Andys Goldsworthy like piece in the trees.

By the arts building is a little patio with kiln's on it, surrounded by a small cove of trees. This area had numerous instances of student art, my favorite of which was this Andy's Goldsworthy-like piece in the trees.

William Kentridge mania has swept the Seattle area art blogs that I follow. For good reason for the most part as at this point in time he has a show at the Henry Art Gallery, recent prints at Greg Kucera Gallery, a performance at UW and first and foremost a staging of his production of Montiverdi’s Return of Ulysses with Pacific Operaworks. Getting caught up in this mania I checked to see if tickets were available on Saturday and they were so I rather impulse bought one and headed out to the show.

Return of Ulysses Staging

The show was at the historic Moore Theater which really was the perfect venue for this sort of thing. Built in 1907 this theater has the old rococo charm of its classic theater and vaudeville roots which seemed to blend seamlessly with the stage setting. The stage was basically setup in three layers in a semi-circle with a stage on the bottom, the musicians on the middle level and the third level a balcony in front of a screen upon which Kentridge’s animations and drawings were projected. The visual information that was available to the audience was overwhelming. The characters in the opera were represented by puppets which were fantastic creations of the Handspring Puppet Company whose puppeteer was right there on stage with their puppet. Additionally a each character had the singer who usually flanked the puppet on the other side and usually manipulated one of the puppets arms.  So each character (except for the gods who were represented solely by a singer) had three separate parts to it and at times the stage could be pretty crowded with them all.

Ever present was the musicians, who for this early music aficionado are fascinating to watch.  Arrayed in the semi-circle illustrated above from left to right they were: baroque harp, arch lute, chitarone/baroque guitar, viola, baroque violin, viola de gamba and baroque ‘cello/lirone. The Montiverdi score is really entrancing, quite a bit of it was interplay between the harp and lute often with the ‘cello or viola de gamba providing an almost drone like continuo.  All of the performers are part of Seattle’s very engaged early music scene and thus the size of the ensemble, the tunings, the performance techniques and the instruments were all appropriate to the music.  Music from this period does not suffer from the same type of excesses that mark opera from the romantic periods especially in vocal techniques. The singing is much more akin to what you’d find in say a Bach Cantata or polyphonic chant. The size of the orchestra doesn’t allow for the huge overtures and bombast of this period either, the music is much more delicate and as it is all strings of a particular character.  There really is a balance between the singers, who do not engage in the vocal flights of fancy one typically associates with opera and the instrumentalists who do not have over endowed sections to simplify and over emphasize their sounds. I really loved the music for this, the layers of plucked tones from the lute(s) and harp, the drones from the ‘cello and viola de gamba and the rare melodic interventions of the violin and viola.  This served well to remind me that the Montiverdi selection in my CD files is a bit thin. The music direction from Stephen Stubbs was impeccable and I’m inspired to seek out some of his early music recordings.  Pacific Operworks who performed the opera is a new company started by Stubbs and in conjunction with the Seattle Academy of Baroque Opera focuses on chamber operas and related historical performances. Based on this, their inagurale production, they are clearly a welcome addition to the city.

The next layer was the projected animations and drawings from William Kentridge.  These served a number of purposes from backdrop and stage setting, to commentary.  In some instances it would be a scrolling landscape, road or hallway and the puppets would perform in front of it giving a sense of movement and represent well the travel that was involved.  Most interesting though was the use of the animation as an illustration of the abstract concepts that the opera was engaging.  The play begins with Ulysses on his deathbed surrounded by representations of Time, Fortune and Love. Projected during this was images of surgery, abstract drawings that could evoke such things as time, thought, feelings of frailty and of course abstractions that their just wasn’t sufficient time to unravel. At other times metaphors from the characters would be illustrated such as flowering plants, vines and growing trees as Penelope’s three suitors ply her with these analogies in an attempt to persuade her to turn her affections from the long absent Ulysses to one of them.  Certain images would repeat sometimes permuted other times directly to underscore recurrent themes and ideas.  Over the hour and forty minutes or so of the opera I’d say there was nearly an hours worth of original material, most of it black and white animated images (as opposed to layered cell animation). I was really taken by a lot of this animation and am now very curious to see more of Kentridge’s art in this style.

Finally there was the actual story of the opera which as inmost modern opera productions was available to use via super-scripting – a small monitor above the stage where the lyrics would be presented in English in real time. The story of course is familiar to anyone who has read Homer – Ulysses returning from the Trojan wars was waylaid by the gods and wandered for many years. During this time his wife Penelope is besieged by suitors who wish to win her hand and gain Ulysses kingdom. Ulysses finally making it back to Greece  learns of this situation and added by Athena  appears in his court in the disguise of an old man in order to assess the situation. Finding Penelope has remained true to him he slays the suitors, reveals his identity and reunites with his wife. A multi-layered story with ideas rooted in man’s mortality, the nature of fate, faithfulness, the nature of power and so on.

All in all between reading the text, watching the stagecraft, keeping an eye on the animation and watching the musicians and listening to the music I can’t think of the last time I have been so completely engaged in a performance. Even the narrow and uncomfortable Moore theater seats were barely able to arise to my attention so enveloped as I was in this abundance of stimuli.  This is definitely one of the best and most engaging things I have seen in a long time and while it was rather expensive it was well worth it. This is a rare event and they are only doing five performances here before moving the staging to San Francisco. For any of my Seattle area readers I highly advise catching one of this weekend’s performances.

Today, March 14th (3.14 ha!),  is National  Day. Enjoy!

3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286208
99862803482534211706798214808651328230664709384460955058223172535940812848111745
02841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659334461284756482337867831
65271201909145648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273724587006606315588
17488152092096282925409171536436789259036001133053054882046652138414695194151160
94330572703657595919530921861173819326117931051185480744623799627495673518857527
24891227938183011949129833673362440656643086021394946395224737190702179860943702
77053921717629317675238467481846766940513200056812714526356082778577134275778960
91736371787214684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235420199561121290219
60864034418159813629774771309960518707211349999998372978049951059731732816096318
59502445945534690830264252230825334468503526193118817101000313783875288658753320
83814206171776691473035982534904287554687311595628638823537875937519577818577805
32171226806613001927876611195909216420198938095257201065485863278865936153381827
96823030195203530185296899577362259941389124972177528347913151557485724245415069
59508295331168617278558890750983817546374649393192550604009277016711390098488240
12858361603563707660104710181942955596198946767837449448255379774726847104047534
64620804668425906949129331367702898915210475216205696602405803815019351125338243
00355876402474964732639141992726042699227967823547816360093417216412199245863150
30286182974555706749838505494588586926995690927210797509302955321165344987202755
96023648066549911988183479775356636980742654252786255181841757467289097777279380
00816470600161452491921732172147723501414419735685481613611573525521334757418494
68438523323907394143334547762416862518983569485562099219222184272550254256887671
79049460165346680498862723279178608578438382796797668145410095388378636095068006
42251252051173929848960841284886269456042419652850222106611863067442786220391949
45047123713786960956364371917287467764657573962413890865832645995813390478027590
09946576407895126946839835259570982582262052248940772671947826848260147699090264
01363944374553050682034962524517493996514314298091906592509372216964615157098583
87410597885959772975498930161753928468138268683868942774155991855925245953959431
04997252468084598727364469584865383673622262609912460805124388439045124413654976
27807977156914359977001296160894416948685558484063534220722258284886481584560285
06016842739452267467678895252138522549954666727823986456596116354886230577456498
03559363456817432411251507606947945109659609402522887971089314566913686722874894
05601015033086179286809208747609178249385890097149096759852613655497818931297848
21682998948722658804857564014270477555132379641451523746234364542858444795265867
82105114135473573952311342716610213596953623144295248493718711014576540359027993
44037420073105785390621983874478084784896833214457138687519435064302184531910484
81005370614680674919278191197939952061419663428754440643745123718192179998391015
91956181467514269123974894090718649423196156794520809514655022523160388193014209
37621378559566389377870830390697920773467221825625996615014215030680384477345492
02605414665925201497442850732518666002132434088190710486331734649651453905796268
56100550810665879699816357473638405257145910289706414011097120628043903975951567
71577004203378699360072305587631763594218731251471205329281918261861258673215791
98414848829164470609575270695722091756711672291098169091528017350671274858322287
18352093539657251210835791513698820914442100675103346711031412671113699086585163
98315019701651511685171437657618351556508849099898599823873455283316355076479185
35893226185489632132933089857064204675259070915481416549859461637180270981994309
92448895757128289059232332609729971208443357326548938239119325974636673058360414
28138830320382490375898524374417029132765618093773444030707469211201913020330380
19762110110044929321516084244485963766983895228684783123552658213144957685726243
34418930396864262434107732269780280731891544110104468232527162010526522721116603
96665573092547110557853763466820653109896526918620564769312570586356620185581007
29360659876486117910453348850346113657686753249441668039626579787718556084552965
41266540853061434443185867697514566140680070023787765913440171274947042056223053
89945613140711270004078547332699390814546646458807972708266830634328587856983052
35808933065757406795457163775254202114955761581400250126228594130216471550979259
23099079654737612551765675135751782966645477917450112996148903046399471329621073
40437518957359614589019389713111790429782856475032031986915140287080859904801094
12147221317947647772622414254854540332157185306142288137585043063321751829798662
23717215916077166925474873898665494945011465406284336639379003976926567214638530
67360965712091807638327166416274888800786925602902284721040317211860820419000422
96617119637792133757511495950156604963186294726547364252308177036751590673502350
72835405670403867435136222247715891504953098444893330963408780769325993978054193
41447377441842631298608099888687413260472156951623965864573021631598

Ives Ensemble

Ives Ensemble

On Thursday March 5th 2009 I took the day off from work and drove north to Canada to see the Ives Ensemble.  They’d been brought into Canada by  Contiuum Contemporary Music for their SHIFT Festival of Canadian and Dutch music.  Having a largish group flown in from the Netherlands for a festival seems a bit extravagant so working with various Canadian arts organizations they scheduled a few more dates across Canada.  Vancouver New Music was one of these organizations and they managed to bring them to Vancouver as part of their Sonic Tonic series for the final date of their tour.

VNM almost always has an “artist chat” an hour before their concerts and tonight was no exception.  I managed to make it to the ScotiaBank Dance Centre just a few minutes after 7pm and about 5 minutes before the chat began. The entire ensemble was in a semi-circle of chairs in the front of a dance studio complete with an entire mirrored wall. VNM director Giorgio Magnanensi, who is now sporting a great and wild beard, began by asking them the details of their tour.  Most of the questions were fielded by John Snijders, the founder of the ensemble, but at various times several of the members would chime in.  They spoke of the SHIFT Festival and how it commissioned new works from Canadian and Dutch composers and about the concerts and workshops they did in Toronto.  This sounded like a very interesting cultural exchange and I think a very positive type of event for new music, especially in the commissioning and performing of new works.  The Canadian composer they chose for the commission was Allison Cameron and Giorgio told us an anecdote about him getting flack from the CBC for programming her music in a festival back when she was a lot less well known. There was also a series of questions from the audience about female composers and their level of representation.   On the question of female representation John gave what I think is the most sensible answer: it all comes down to the quality of the composition, there is no issue w/r/t the sex of the composer. This led to several questions about compositions written especially for them and John told us that they rarely get unsolicited compositions mainly because they are very picky on what they choose to play. He then brought up that when playing festivals the programmers really want “World Premiers” and that this leads to an issue where a piece is often only played that one time, as after that performance they need the next world premier.  He said that for them they have found that many pieces benefit from repeat performance:

“Returning to a piece you find that it has become a part of you – comfortable.”

One of the other members then chimed in to say that playing a piece many times is “Honest to the piece” and that it matures and you discover more. This sparked a question from the audience about which pieces tonight were particularly “well played” pieces and they answered that the Viola in my Life was but not the other Feldman, the Xenakis was a newer piece for them and obviously the the Cameron was being a commission. But the rest of them they had played many times, greater then ten times each.  All in all a very interesting chat, very interesting to hear about the various experiences that working in an ensemble like this engenders.

About a half an hour after the chat ended the concert began just a little but after 7pm.  I had scored a seat front row center and the acoustics at this distance was pretty incredible, I could hear all the nuences of the instruments loud and clear.  The first set began with Straight Lines in Broken Times composed by Christopher Fox.  This piece is I believe what they call “post-minimalism”, in that it is made up of fragments of many different styles and was scored for piano, clarinet and violin.  While segments of it were made up of almost Glass-like short repeated phrases others evoked classicism and still others evoked various folk traditions with one bit having a distinctly Klezmer-ish sound. The most interesting part of this piece was a section where the clarinet dropped out, then a couple of minutes later the violin leaving just solo piano for a few measures before they came back in.  Not really my kind of thing, but it aptly demonstrated the skill and touch of the ensemble.  They left the stage and then these three, plus a cellist came back out to play the first of four Postcards by Allison Cameron.  This composition, Four Postcards, was designed to be played in as part of a program and each of them was stylistically diverse and only a couple of minutes long. I came to wonder if they were actually written for this specific program as they seemed stylistic informed by the other pieces.  Like the Fox the first Postcard was rapid little fragments from the quartet, each of them working little independent rhythmic structures.  There was very short violin solo in which it played longer tones in contrast to the rest of the piece. I wasn’t very taken by this piece either and I was becoming a bit depressed. Fortunately the Feldman piece that followed restored my spirits, though at around 8 minutes left me wanting.  Four Instruments (1975) is scored for the same quartet as Feldmans final piece, Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello and has much of the same feel as that piece. It was amazing to watch the ensemble settle down, almost visible changing gears as shifted into Feldman mode.  The vibrato was gone, the bow strokes flat and affectless, piano notes suspended. Really fantastic and when it ended so soon I felt a sense of loss. How I wish this set had been just a performance of Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello.  This was followed by the second Postcard, which was very similar to the first, made of short little energetic fragments from the same line up of instruments. This time though there was a short piano solo as opposed to the violin, but like that it was less frenetic then the rest of the piece.  The final piece of this set was Gerald Barry’s  Piano Quartet nr. 1 scored for piano, violin, viola and ‘cello. This piece was incredibly frenetic, the only piece that had to have a page turner for the violist (primarily, also turned a page or two for the ‘cellist) and also the longest of this set.  Frankly I didn’t enjoy it at all, it just seemed like an exercise in excess.  Fast repeated, short sounds broken up by various, equally fast solo sections.  There were a number of folk reference; an almost ragtime piano and the piece concluded with a very direct nod to Irish reels and jigs (though the ensemble didn’t really nail the trad ornamentation).  The musicians didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves much as they played the piece, but this is one of the pieces they often play.

There was followed by intermission, in which I had a cup of red wine and took a look at the CDs the ensemble had brought with them. Alas they didn’t have any of the hat[Now]ART CDs that are OOP, all the ones they had were readily available and were quite expensive.  Shortly thereafter I was back in my seat for the second half of the concert which opened with the third Postcard. This was my favorite of the Postcards and the one were I began to suspect that these were tied to this specific program (or perhaps for the Ives Ensembles typical repertoire).  It was for the same instruments with bass clarinet replacing the standard clarinet. It began with long mournful ‘cello lines that was then joined with longer tones from the bass clarinet.  This piece had a much more Feldman-esque feel then the frantic insect-like nature of her earlier postcards.  It wasn’t all long slow lines though, the piano added a nice bit of spiky counterpoint to these as did the ‘cellist at one point by plucking his strings.  The Viola in My Life 2 followed and was by far the highlight of the evening. Once again the ensemble shifted into slow gear and once again displayed their incredible touch for this music.  The violist was of course front and center, standing up for this piece, and was joined by the violin, clarinet, flute, percussionist and the pianist on celesta. It was fascinating to watch this piece, which I’m quite familiar with, unfold, the percussionist gentle shaking stuff in his hands at first then later gentle tapping a snare with his hands and occasionally bring out a few notes on the vibraphone.  The celesta was rarely used, almost like another percussion instrument, adding a single ringing chord every so often to sublime effect.  The viola of course was front and center with its mournful melodic phrase brought in again and again in various permutations.  Really wonderful, again I longed for a whole evening of Feldman from this ensemble.  This piece brought the greatest audience reaction including a spontaneous “Bravo!” from one of the members.  The violist got an extra, well deserved, round of applause.  The group returned for the final Postcard with the same lineup as the last but this time there were two additional performers carrying books and candles. They lit their candles and sat on the floor on either side of the musicians.  After initial longer tones (the solo as it were) from the bass clarinet the group played short little fragments, but they were soft and sedate sort of in-between the styles of the first and third. These little segments were clearly to be played and repeated as long as the readers kept reading. They blew out their candles, first the reader on the right and then a minute or two later the reader on the left, as they finished whatever prescribed bit of reading they had to do and then the piece ended. This was my second favorite of the Postcards a really nice sounding piece with a clever bit of indeterminacy. The final piece was Plektó composed by Iannis Xenakis for flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin and ‘cello.  I’ve heard a decent amount of Xenakis’s chamber works but this piece was new to me. Like a lot of his pieces it was pretty aggressive and bombastic. The percussion was a big floor tom, a huge bass drum and little tom-toms and these were heavily worked. The piano was also literally pounded and at one point there was a near call and response between the piano and drums. The other instruments created this swirling miasma of long tones often creating dissonance and almost beating tones between them.  The piece was right on the edge I felt, a lot of the drum work was almost cheesy but the dissonances and the contrasts between the various elements kept my attention. It was definitely an exciting specticle to see live.  This concluded the set and they ensemble left to much applause.

Eventually waving away the appluse, John Snijders introduced the encore, Langzame Verjaardag (slow birthday) which was a piece written by Louis Andriessen for the groups 20th Anniversery.  This piece featured all of the ensemble but Snijders who stood off to one side. He descibred the piece as a “canon in unison where each member can enter at will”.  This piece was really nice, slow long tones, unfolding and overlapping and eventually fading away as each member finished their part. Eventually it was just the flautist who played three or four phrases before he to was done. A really nice ending to a great evening of music.