Attending the CMA-affiliated performance of the Durations Trio at the Fibonacci Space, January 23, reminded me of the premier of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913.
The Parisians, expecting classical ballet and typical nineteenth-century music reacted so violently to the atonal dissonance, the jarring arythmia and the spasticity of the choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky that police had to quell a riot. Too much of the too new.
In contrast , an appreciative Amarillo audience applauded a crystal note concert by the Durations Trio, whose members played the violin, piano and tuba, challenging traditional concepts of musical form and harmony with the shock of the new.
In fact, violinist and Texas Tech faculty member Annie Chalex Boyle said there were two reasons that the Lubbock-based group chose to stage what amounted to a premier performance in Amarillo: an intimate performance space; an open and appreciative audience.
Bear that thought in mind.
Tubist Kevin Wass related how Durations grew from an ad hoc experiment playing the work Durations by American Morton Feldman, a major 20th century composer whose works have traction only among specialists.
That’s because Feldman created a new paradigm, to emphasize the note, not notes, tonal shadings, not harmony, sustainable sound and the unexpected in rhythm.
In fact, according to one listener, the greatest pleasure in this recital came from the impact of the unexpected, which took her into a zone suffused in a soundscape of atonal Zen.
But, returning to the genesis narrative, the first challenge for Wass was to find artists willing to take the challenge of Feldman. Wife and professional colleague Susan played the piano, but the search for that special violinist resolved on Annie Chalex Boyle, who agreed to play her part for Durations.
That single performance proved so successful that the group decided to continue playing as the Durations Trio and building of repertoire of hyper-minimalist, modern music.
Their performance in Amarillo included three parts of Feldman’s Durations, done antiphonally and triangulated in a small space where the sounds softly touch but don’t linger. The note, as both process and product, created a sensation at once edgy and elevating.
Fratres by Estonian minimalist Arvo Part makes the third time in the last year that local audiences have heard works by this composer. Sustained dissonance and vigorous bariolaging evoke the cold taiga, sometimes still and sometimes turbulent. Since the Panhandle has seen little snow this winter, Part has created, musically, an arctic white-out.
Two of the works on the program were extreme modifications from the Baroque period: J.P. von Westoff’s Sonata No. 3; J.S. Bach’s from St. Matthew’s Passion. Face it, neither composer created with the tuba in mind, like Amilcare Ponchielli who didn’t envision dancing hippos and crocodiles to his Dance of the Hours in the first Fantasia. Both were decidedly different and definitely out-of-the-box, but they worked!
The last number was by American Pauline Oliveros, a visionary composer like Feldman who took minimalism to a level she called “Deep Listening.”
From a work called Thirteen Changes (1986), which, curiously, has thirteen segments, the audience drew numbers and then tried to guess which title was just played. And the winners: Standing Naked in the Monnlight; A Solitary Worm in an Empty Coffin.
You just had to be there to get the effect of the sustained violin note, bowed without noticeable break, the Fazioli Grand’s strings plucked and a sometimes melodic tuba.
If modern visual art asks the viewer to see reality differently, Durations Trio asked the same of the listener. And, as with the visual arts, so also with music: the avant-garde of one generation becomes the standard of the next.
And to think , we heard Durations Trio first in Amarillo, thanks to the artists and CMA artistic director David Palmer. Honored by their performance, we were more honored that Amarillo was chosen over home-town Lubbock because of a discerning audience.
Which all but makes the case when we say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!