Review: New works inspire Carnegie ACJW

Carnegie ACJW offered a brave new world Friday night at the Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center w

Carnegie ACJW offered a brave new world Friday night at the Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center with not only the new sounds of a premiere but a collaboration of contemporary design.

This was the 10th concert the ensemble has given at the college, and although it has played new music before, this concert had several extra dimensions. ACJW asked members of the Sleeping Giant composers’ consortium to take a new look at Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat” (1918). With that as inspiration — and Stravinsky’s music fit right in with what Andrew Norman, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper and Robert Honstein came up with — the seven-member ACJW made sounds that were an unusual mix. This performance was the New York premiere.

Each composer took a fragment, a rhythmic motif or a mood from the Stravinsky work. Some worked especially well, such as Cerrone’s “Recovering,” which was haunting, atmospheric and beautiful with David Skidmore, one of the most stylish percussionists around, working wonders on the vibraphone. The other players stationed around the hall blew air through their instruments to create a kind of sonic wind. Norman’s brief connections that were like interludes were bits of sound and distant, like hearing an orchestra warming up through a closed door. Cooper’s “Agitated” successfully captured Stravinsky’s gritty edge and rhythm but it was more a controlled cacophony.

Violinist Keats Dieffenbach, clarinetist Paul Won Hin Cho, bassoonist Shelley Huang, trumpeter Nathan Botts, trombonist Richard Harris, bassist Brian Ellingsen and Skidmore were excellent bringing the music to life.

They also did very well with the Stravinsky. For the first time, members of the college’s theater and dance departments collaborated with ACJW. Barbara Gulan narrated, Jacob Goodhart as the soldier also danced nicely, and Elizabeth Andretta, wearing a red scarf, was the devil. Andretta was terrific with exceptional diction and gave her lines an edged inflection and great pacing.

Alison DeFranco, dressed in a white chemise, danced with Goodhart stage left in sinuous, spinning choreography provided by Ruben Graciani, who did well to come up with moves to this often angular, difficult music. Their lifts and mutual partnering were reminiscent of ice skating pairs. Emily Pacilio, in a red number, did a solo turn as the devil. Her gestures were strong, confident and intense. She seemed to take over the space.

As for the ACJW, they did well without a conductor and kept strong pacing. Occasionally, they were too loud for the narrator. Stravinsky wrote some particularly tricky licks for the trumpet and clarinet, which most of the time were played well.

Despite the number of times this theater piece is performed, it still sounds fresh. Coupled with narration and dance, which is how it was originally conceived but not always how it’s presented, gave the capacity crowd the full flavor. The crowd was rapt.

Categories: Entertainment

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