New Music Connoisseur - March 2005 - David Cleary

"Firebird Ensemble: Tapestry"

The Firebird Ensemble's final presentation of the season was entitled "Tapestry."   On Sunday night's concert, your reviewer encountered an enchanting carpet woven from musical fibers culled from all across Asia .

The four movements heard of Reza Vali's Folk Songs, Set No. 9 (1991) are based on Persian vernacular material as well as Vali's original tunes written in that style.   It's very much to the composer's credit that one can't tell the difference between the two.   Vali's handling of the melodies, while simple (employing canons or sparse accompaniments often built from ostinati ) is engrossing.   This flute and cello duo is a fine listen.   Scored for oud (Arabic lute), violin, and percussion, Sama'i Hijazkar (2004) by Syrian-born Kareem Roustom comes across as an authentic Middle Eastern musical experience.   The piece employs Arabic scales rife with quarter tones, a Turkish formal structure often used in music accompanying Whirling Dervishes, plenty of heterophonic melody elaboration, and sections where the oud and violin improvise on earlier material.   Exotic and pleasing to hear.

Chinese idioms permeate the otherwise Atlantic Coast oriented cello/piano/percussion trio Qi (1997) by Chen Yi.   But there's no plum blossom fragility here-intense, energetic material leaps from the pages of this compelling and well-made piece.   Shirish Korde's Nesting Cranes (2004) also demonstrates a mating of East and Eastern Seaboard, though here the Asian elements draw from several sources, suggesting places as far apart as Indonesia and Japan .   The writing for both flute and string quartet is multihued and gorgeous, and musical material is handled with utmost craftiness.

Especially eclectic in its influences, Varied Trio (1987) by Lou Harrison snitches elements not just from Northern India and Bali but from various European sources as well.   Yet somehow, it all fits together, nicely harnessed to Harrison 's genial yet persuasive aesthetic vision.   Percussionist, violinist, and pianist get their chance to shine, showcasing the composer's fine ear for long-spun yet engaging lines.   Judging from his string quartet Turk Kuarteti ( n.d .), the little-known Turkish composer Ekrem Zeki Un (1910-1987) deserves much wider recognition.   This unusual selection, with its restlessly changing meters, craggy phrasing, ostinato textures, and raw folk-like speech (here laced with microtones) suggests a Middle Eastern updating of Leos Janacek and Bela Bartok .   It's wonderfully vital and unique fare.

With this concert, the Firebird Ensemble confirmed its status as one of Boston 's elite new music groups.   One should single out Alicia DiDonato's splendidly versatile flute playing in Nesting Cranes , David Russell's flamboyantly forceful cello performance in Qi , and Katherine Winterstein's delightfully effective violin turn in Varied Trio , but all the musicians who took the stage-the aforementioned plus Rohan Gregory (violin), Tali Morgulis (piano), Bob Schulz (percussion), Kate Vincent (viola, ensemble director), and Roustom ( oud )-acquitted themselves handsomely.

If this event were indeed a rug, it would be a treasured heirloom assuming a place of honor in a world-class museum.   This was without doubt one of the most adventurous and well-executed Boston-area new music concerts of the season.

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