NY Phil Biennial Connects Sound and Space in 'Beyond Recall'

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The Museum of Modern Art recently became a home for new music as the New York Philharmonic’s CONTACT! series presented works based on modern sculpture as a part of the NY Phil Biennial. The concert, titled "Beyond Recall," was designed around the Salzburg Art Project's idea to have composer-conductor Matthias Pintscher commission composers to write pieces based on site-specific sculptures in Salzburg.

The program opened with Dai Fujikura’s silence seeking solace, based on artist Stephan Balkenhol’s sculptures Sphaera and Frau im Fels. The sculptures, one an enlarged man on a gold sphere and the other a small woman tucked away in a rock wall, influenced the string quartet and vocalist piece featuring soprano Jennifer Zetlan.

Spirit of Alberti by Bruno Mantovani took inspiration from the sculpture Spirit of Mozart by Marina Abramovic, a work of one giant stainless-steel chair and eight small chairs. The high-pace music, filled with energetic arpeggios from every section of the ensemble, echoed the sculpture by referencing Alberti bass, a technique often used by Mozart. The program again included soprano Jennifer Zetlan in Piazza di Numeri, a piece by composer Olga Neuwirth and connected to Mario Merz’s sculpture Ziffern im Wald.

In a burst of brass, Michael Jarrell’s Adtende, ubi albescit veritas for bass-baritone and large ensemble then filled the venue. In his New York Philharmonic debut, bass-baritone Evan Hughes headed the piece influenced by Christian Boltanski’s sculpture Vanitas, a work of metal figures lit up by candlelight.

Caldera (audio not available), by Austrian composer Johannes Maria Staud, took its name directly from its inspiration sculpture by Anthony Cragg. The piece for soprano and clarinet is meant to mimic the relationship between the figures in Cragg’s amorphous, volcanic work. Next came E2 (audio not available), a Mark Andre piece based on Sky-Space by James Turrell.

Nina Šenk’s In the Absence was prompted by a sculpture of five large pickles called Gurken by Edwin Wurm. The piece is ominous and appropriately unusual in form, with the soprano woven between unpredictable surges from the instruments.

Pieces by Jay Schwartz and Vito Žuraj closed the Biennial concert. Schwartz’s M, based on Markus Lupertz’s Mozart - Eine Hommage in which Mozart’s bust is combined with a female torso, includes subtle references to The Marriage of Figaro and the Requiem. Insideout by Žuraj was performed as a scene for two vocalists and ensemble. The piece was inspired by Connection, a metal sculpture by Manfred Wakolbinger.

Complete Program:

Dai Fujikura  silence seeking solace
Bruno Mantovani  Spirit of Alberti
Olga Neuwirth  Piazza dei Numeri
Michael Jarrell  Atende, ubi albescit veritas
Nina Senk  In the Absence
Jay Schwartz  M
Vito  Žuraj  Insideout

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