Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Nico Muhly: Drones, Variations, Ornaments. Kevin Volans: Looping Point. Glenn Branca: Thought. Donnacha Dennehy: Disposable Dissonance
This Crash Ensemble concert showed why this group is a powerhouse of new music. Three of the four works on the programme were commissioned by Crash, and two were receiving their first performances. Under conductor Alan Pierson, the playing’s virtuosic flair persuaded you that this was exactly how they should sound. The concert was also Crash’s first concert at the Project Arts Centre since the group became the centre’s music ensemble-in-residence.
The first performance of Drones, Variations, Ornaments by the 31-year-old Vermont-born composer Nico Muhly was given by the Crash Ensemble last year. I was struck by the way in which the pacing of the opening, lush chords on strings, continued as a slow background – or so it seemed, holding together elaborations that were sometimes forceful and sometimes luscious.
One of the newly commissioned works was Thought by the 64-year-old American boundary-buster Glenn Branca. In this piece for 10 players he just goes at it, via scoring that is mainly harsh, a non-organic kind of momentum, and an insistence that gets under the skin. Although some might describe it as post-minimalist, force of personality rises above such reductive categorisation.
Donnacha Dennehy’s Disposable Dissonance was commissioned by music ensemble Icebreaker and premiered by them in Nottingham in 2010. It has been arranged by Dennehy for the Crash Ensemble, of which he is founder and co-artistic director. I found it simultaneously fascinating and challenging, wondered if I was over-aware of its quasi-regular metrical patterns, and suspected I was failing to hear what was it was doing on a larger scale, the informative programme note notwithstanding. A repeat hearing is necessary.
In the second newly commissioned work, Kevin Volans’s Looping Point, the general concept, technique and aesthetic result showed impeccable congruity. As virtuosic scalic patterns rushed across the texture, underpinned by longer notes, the twists and turns of texture held an edge-of-the-seat fascination. The sound, and admiration for such subtle directness, lingered in the memory long after the concert.