Crash Ensemble/Pierson


Liberty Hall Theatre, Dublin

Nico Muhly– How About Now

Sean Friar– Velvet Hammer

Timothy Andres– Crashing Through Fences

Ken Ueno– . . . blood blossoms . . .

Missy Mazzoli– Still Life With Avalanche Nico Muhly – It Goes Without Saying;

Drones,Variations, Ornaments

Crash Ensemble’s concert under Alan Pierson at the Liberty Hall Theatre on Friday was billed “Young Americans”, but, in truth, most of the interest focused on just one young American, Vermont-born, New York-resident Nico Muhly.

Muhly, who turned 30 in August, has already written an opera for English National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, signed as a composer to the Decca label, and won a reputation for crossing musical boundaries – the name of Björk tends to crop up alongside that of Britten. He’s personable, voluble, a quick thinker who never seems short of an idea or a response.

It Goes Without Saying(2005) for clarinet and electronics, sounds like a homage to the clarinet-rich textures of Steve Reich’s New York Counterpointfor clarinet and tape of multi-tracked clarinets. Muhly electronically multiplies the clarinets, but also adds the sounds of harmonium and percussion (including the clarinet’s key-clicks) in a catchy way.

How About Now(2006) for ensemble is mostly laid-back and affectionate-sounding (though with some busily minimalistic moments), and is rhythmically tricksy in the way it pursues its irregular progress.

Friday’s new work, the specially-commissioned Drone, Variations and Ornaments for ensemble, has rather too high a dependence on banal material and crude shock tactics in the form of heavy-duty percussion and dense screeching effects. The spotlighting of trombone never really seemed to gel, and the work’s best moment was a swooning passage built around an alto flute solo.

Timothy Andres set himself a well-night impossible task of writing for piccolo and glockenspiel in his Crashing Through Fences(2009). But even the addition of kick drums didn’t rescue this misguided enterprise.

Ken Ueno took the title of his . . . blood blossoms . . .(2002) from William Burroughs’s The Naked Lunch. He proposes it as “spectral rock + avant-jazz meets + modernist structure”, but its growling, grating, shivering background to periodic explosions remained too concerned with primitive polarities.

Missy Mazzoli’s Still Life With Avalanche(2008) was the evening’s pretty piece, almost poppy at times, with an unexpected change of direction that was wrought by the intrusion of a bereavement during the course of composition. The persistent drone of a pair of harmonicas provided an imaginative frame for the whole.

Los Angeles-born Sean Friar’s insistently pulsing Velvet Hammer(2009), for an ensemble featuring electric guitar, set out to create a kind of “super-electric guitar”. Friar even uses the other instruments as a kind trompe l’oreille in what came across as a sort of love statement about its central instrument.