Last week, I attended two performances: the first, Andrew McKenna Lee and the Knells at National Sawdust, and the second, Cantata Profana’s second run of their program titled Tancredi at Symphony Space | Leonard Nimoy Thalia. The ways in which both concerts explored an astoundingly vast range of musical styles and genres made me think about crossing boundaries.
On Thursday night, I rushed to Williamsburg after my spinning class. Gobbling down the rest of my lunch somewhere between Union Square and Bedford Ave, I made it to the venue just in time to spot a Pinot Noir on the wine list.
I knew one of the singers, Charlotte Mundy, and while I was familiar with Lee as a performer, I was largely unfamiliar with his music. The first half opened with two of his earlier compositions for acoustic guitar, intimately drawing me into his quirky and highly-varied language, as well as his virtuosic playing. Scored for electric guitar, vibraphone, and loop pedal, the following piece, Unraveling, dived into an otherworldly soundscape. Its lengthy conclusion was drawn out over a warped sense of time, as the music slowly evaporated into ambient noise. The highlight of the first half was Lee’s performance of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, with the sounds of its slowly-shifting lines gradually filling the space with one epic groove after the next. The first half was so beautifully paced, I was primed and pumped for the second featuring his rock group, the Knells. The band features three vocalists, and while Lee explained that the music was Renaissance-inspired, I found this connection hard to make beyond his treatment of the singers. But the tunes were intelligent and catchy, such that on numerous occasions, I found myself wanting to get out of my seat.
On the Friday eve before #winterstormjonas, Symphony Space Thalia was remarkably filled with the who’s who of the music intelligentsia. Cantata Profana has made a name for itself as a chamber ensemble specializing in baroque and contemporary genres, and since their performances often feature a theatrical element, I was especially curious to see their interpretation of Claudio Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.
Each piece featured a different instrumentation, and while the intermittent pauses required for resetting the stage provided brief moments for reflection on what was just performed, I wondered if they prevented one from drawing possible connections between the seemingly-unrelated works on the program. The players and singers gave intensely-focused, cool, and stylish performances of challenging repertoire, most particularly in Luigi Dallapiccola’s affected Due liriche de Anacreonte. And while the semi-staged Monteverdi provided a much-needed visual dimension to accessing the piece, in many ways, this concert was designed exclusively for the musical elite.
I recently came across yet another genre of music, totalism, which has been defined as “another style emerging from minimalism but taking it in the direction of rhythmic complexity and rock-inspired beat momentum” (Nicolae Sfetcu, The Music Sound). Yet as artists, we constantly look for ways to defy categorization, keeping our ears open to explore the infinite number of sonic possibilities and combinations. It’s thrilling, daunting, and while I may not always understand it, I’ll always keep going back for more.