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Great Noise Ensemble at the Atlas

Kicking off their residency at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Friday, Washington’s homegrown Great Noise Ensemble delivered an engaging performance that included two world premieres. Though David Vickerman conducted for the evening, the concert bore the mark of Armando Bayolo, who in addition to being one of the premiered composers, is the founding music director of the Great Noise Ensemble and the new curator of new music programming at the Atlas.

The program began with These Inflected Tentacles, a quartet by Jonathan Newman (b. 1972) for marimba, piano, violin, and cello, in its first complete performance. Each of the piece’s four movements was titled with a decontextualized quotation from Charles Darwin’s Insectivorous Plants, in which the scientist luridly recounted his experiments on meat-eating flora. The music seemed too breezy and lighthearted for having supposedly been inspired by descriptions of “experimentation ranging from the curious to the cruel,” as described in Newman’s program note. Since there was really no apparent connection between music and quotes, that was easy to ignore while taking in the piece’s soaring lines and elfishly shifting rhythms. The Great Noise musicians negotiated these adeptly, though at times the performance felt like an effortful mad dash rather than a carefree romp.

Next, a larger ensemble performed John Adams’s Son of Chamber Symphony, largely an exercise in moto perpetuo. Its intricately offset rhythms resembled the menacing clangor of machines in a factory, while in other places it more tamely recalled neoclassical, balletic Stravinsky. It would have been interesting to see the choreography that originally went with the piece. Great Noise again ably executed this thorny music, which even when performed correctly, has a sense of barely contained chaos to it. Some of the players, particularly the upper strings seated near the front, were nervous and insecure about their parts, which together with intonation problems, detracted from the performance.

Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, Atlas showcases cutting-edge music with ‘Irreverence’ (Washington Post, October 22)
Another premiere wrapped up the program: Sacred Cows, an extravagant song set by Bayolo (b. 1973). Scored for baritone and mezzo-soprano soloists supported by three female backup singers and large ensemble, this unabashedly anti-religious piece was full of the bile often possessed by those who once were militantly religious (as Bayolo admits in his program note) and who have simply reversed the poles of their fundamentalist mindset. To me, both extremes are tiresome, but Bayolo’s cheeky sense of humor made for a piece that was more entertaining than argumentative.

The next new music concert at the Atlas Performing Arts Center will feature the Newspeak Ensemble (November 2, 8 pm).

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