THE NEW YORK TIMES MUSIC REVIEW
Hammered Chords and Meditative Intensity
By Steve Smith Sept. 10, 2013
Not every substantial American debut by an acclaimed European ensemble comes packaged with oversize fanfare, media hype and an obligatory guest appearance by Yo-Yo Ma. When the Dedalus Ensemble, a French group highly regarded among new-music cognoscenti, played its first United States concert at Roulette in Brooklyn on Monday night, the buzz of anticipation probably barely exceeded the unobtrusive murmurings of much of the music included in the program.
That didn’t make the event less noteworthy. This polished, proficient Montpellier ensemble — represented here by a sextet of Amélie Berson, flutist; Cyprien Busolini, violist; Pierre Stéphane Meugé, saxophonist; Deborah Walker, cellist; Thierry Madiot, trombonist; Didier Aschour, guitarist — came together in 1996. Modern American music is one of its specialties, Mr. Aschour said from the stage between pieces.
For its first performance here, Dedalus mustered an ambitious program titled “Made in USA,” with nine newly commissioned pieces by as many young American composers. You could see sample pages from some of the scores on the ensemble’s blog, but no program notes or explanations were provided, leaving each listener to assess the pieces in terms of sensation and impact.
“40˚ 44’ 5.82” N, 74˚ 1’ 38.53” W,” by Devin Maxwell, was an amiably strident greeting, with chords and clusters hammered insistently, then lightly, in ragged unison. (Running the title through Google Maps renders a street address in Manila, although the coordinates are actually those of a site in Hoboken, N.J.) A similar rhythmic vitality applied in Jonathan Marmor’s brightly pointillist “Penguin Atlas of African History” and Michael Vincent Waller’s sweetly lyrical “Ritratto.”
Quentin Tolimieri’s “Any Number of Instruments” dispatched Mr. Madiot to the balcony, his melancholy lines wafting out above moody chords floating up from the stage. “Coney Island, April 15, 2012,” by Craig Shepard, ended the concert’s first half with dreamlike melancholy, punctuated with the metal tingle of triangles suspended from each player’s music stand.
Most of the works on the concert’s second half dealt in tonal ambiguity and intense, tactile timbres. For the first of Jason Brogan’s “Deux Études,” the musicians took places among audience members on the floor. As they played near the threshold of audibility, your listening grew sharp and broad, folding the room’s ambience and outdoor street sounds into the piece. The second étude, played later in the set, offered a concentrated perspective of similar gestures, with the players onstage.
Both Catherine Lamb’s “Overlays Transparent/Opaque” and John Hastings’s “Theory of Harmony” employed similar extremes of silence, space and detail. In these pieces, placid discords conjured eerie overtones, wobbling beats and the sounds of instruments not present; Mr. Hastings added electronic static, his sounds rising above, then receding below, a wash of white noise.
Setting instruments aside, the Dedalus players ended with “The Young Generation Is Right,” by Travis Just, clapping their hands in steady patterns in alternation with electronic tones from a laptop computer. After all the meditative intensity that preceded it, Mr. Just’s piece provided a welcome note of playful quirk.
Correction: Sept. 14, 2013
A music review on Wednesday about the Dedalus Ensemble, at Roulette in Brooklyn, referred incompletely to the site of the coordinates that are the title of a work by Devin Maxwell that was performed, “40˚ 44’ 5.82” N, 74˚ 1’ 38.53” W.” While running the title through Google Maps does indeed yield a site on a street in Manila, the coordinates are actually those of a site in Hoboken, N.J., not Manila.
A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 10, 2013, Section C, Page 3 of the New York edition with the headline: Hammered Chords and Meditative Intensity
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