Anonymous friend & I review Renegade Ensemble at Studio Z

Go see this set of works yourself on the evening of April 1!

From anonymous friend:

John Cage…Musical crank or visionary.  One will probably not discover the answer to this question at a Minnesota Orchestra concert.  Not that there is anything wrong with the Minnesota Orchestra.  It’s just that the MO is no Studio Z.

In fact, there is nothing quite like Studio Z(eitgeist) in downtown St. Paul.  On the one hand, to live in the Twin Cities is to have an embarrassment of riches: The Schubert Club, Minnesota Opera and Lyra, just to name a few.  It’s all good stuff to be sure, but it’s all so, well, classical.  There is so much more music out there, new interesting stuff that’s worth a listen because it’s good and challenging.  And it will make you appreciate Brahms/Stravinsky all the more.

So it was a Friday night and we had a choice between Brahms/Stravinsky and Renegade Ensemble at Studio Z.  We chose the latter.  It was truly an eclectic mix of what might be called New Classical music.  The music snobs might sniff and call it the adult contemporary of classical, but that is just insecurity rearing it’s ugly head.

It was an eclectic selection with two John Cage compositions providing compositional pedigree to the program and local composers Carlisle Peck and Joshua Weinberg rounding things out.  The opening work by Mr. Peck was an progression of chords on piano that might not be to your taste if your definition of good music is Bach.  However, if you can stick with it to the very end, it is very gratifying piece.  The Cage works were very much in contrast to one another.  “In a Landscape” for concert harp was Cage at his most lyrical.  In contrast “Litany for a Whale,” which in this presentation required some audience participation, could be called experimental as it blurred the line between music and nature in a way that Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” cannot.  Dolce Tormento for solo piccolo by Kaija Saariaho played by Joshua Weinberg was a tour de force of technique and arguably one of the most intensely and transparently passionate works of classical music that I have heard.  Joshua Weinberg also had two of his original compositions performed: two pieces for clarinet, flute and piano and a world premier of his tone poem “Out of the Sickroom”.  Both are engaging with Sickroom being a good way to send the audience out into the night.  My favorite piece of the evening was Hikari by Sômei Satoh played by Derek Thorsteinsson.  It is a immensely challenging piece for trumpet and piano.  The challenge is bringing together a bubbling piano line together with the clarion sounds of the trumpet.  Subtlety and intensity at once.

All in all, a most enjoyable evening.  Studio Z is the place to come for new, interesting and challenging music in the Twin Cities.  The Minnesota Orchestra and the like are great institutions, but few, except with the possible exception of the SPCO (occasionally), ever attempt much that is truly avant garde.  The Twin Cities music scene, both performers and connoisseurs alike, ought to be secure enough to celebrate a place like Studio Z that is willing to push the boundaries of what good music can be.

From the blog owner:

I really enjoyed the sets of pieces here. The first two (Meditations II: Tenderness and Cage’s In a Landscape) fit together nicely as melodic pieces with consistent rhythms, inviting us to relax into the space and the music. A hint of Satie, perhaps. I found myself thinking someone should transform the Cage piece into a kantele piece… but that’s just me 🙂 The middle pieces seemed more nature-oriented, from the pastorale by Weinberg and the Litany for a Whale by Cage to Hikari (Light) with its burbling piano line, like a stream in the background of the light-beam of the trumpet. (That piano line drove me a little nuts as it is very burbling!) The second half of Weinberg’s earlier piece (it’s 1 am — can’t find the title here) focused more on human relationships; the clarinet and flute played together until one died and the other remained for a final arc…

Saariaho’s piccolo piece was unique as every Saariaho piece is — definitely an adult work about adult passions. Fun to hear all the piccolo techniques that went into it, as well. Last was the song cycle Out of the Sickroom by local composer Joshua Weinberg. The texts were written by Charles Bukowski and William Shakespeare, and the interpretation by Alyssa Anderson was passionate and intimate. Bukowski & Shakespeare, together at last — but it really works. It’s clear that Weinberg’s compositional experience has grown; his earlier featured work was enjoyable and well-done, but with the more recent work I stopped thinking about the structure of the piece and how it was put together and just listened because I had to. The Shakespeare part and the part that featured the poem Bluebird were the strongest, to me, and I can’t characterize why with any technical justification; they’re just the parts that swept me away and moved my emotions enough to forget about technique and composition.

and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do

— end of Bluebird, by Bukowski