Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

Three Nights at MATA Keeps Your Ear on its Toes

As Executive Director Todd Tarantino impressively boasted during his remarks at MATA‘s opening gala on Monday, April 13, 2015 from within the intimate, barn-like sanctuary of the Paula Cooper Gallery, this festival is the only concert series of its kind to exclusively commission and program the work of young and emerging composers, so defined as being under the age of 40. As a result, according to Tarantino, MATA is therefore the most sought-after opportunity for composers within this demographic in the world, drawing attention this year from over 70 countries and exceeding 1000 submissions. MATA alumni have gone on to receive honors not limited to MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, Takemitsu, Pulitzer, Alpert and Rome Prizes, and Barlow and Koussevitsky commissions. If the ensuing week of extremely diverse and thoughtful programming organized by MATA’s newly appointed Artistic Director, Du Yun, is to be any indication, these statistics are at best an understatement of the raw talent and potential being showcased here.

Here are a few highlights from the latter half of the festival, which was presented this year from The Kitchen in Chelsea:

Featuring the New York-based Momenta Quartet (joined by various guest instrumentalists) and entitled “Unreasonable Visions,” Thursday, April 16th’s presentation opened with an approachable work by MATA’s own Director of Operations, Alex Weiser. Weiser’s straightforward exploration of dissonance and consonance made for a compelling departure point. In contrast, Guy Barash‘s Wrong Ocean, a kinetic, ten-movement flurry of wild precision, offered another extreme while exhibiting an analogous standard of discipline and maturity. Greek composer Michalis Paraskakis channeled shades of Morton Feldman’s works for clarinet and string quartet with his pulsating Not Yet II, featuring clarinetist Christa Van Alstine. Bringing the first half of the concert to a close was Eric Nathan‘s rather poetic Four to One, described by the composer as an homage to the auroral sunsets of Upstate New York.

Momenta Quartet

Momenta Quartet

Following intermission, the stage was ominously set with a large, glass bowl of water, perched on top of a black cylinder and lit from beneath. Percussionist Ian Rosenbaum joined the Momenta Quartet at this station, striking a triangle and then confronting the water bowl, delicately tapping, splashing and sprinkling in a concentrated trance. The work, entitled Mirage, by Iranian composer Idin Samimi Mofakham (who was able to watch the performance via Skype), developed patiently and stoically in long, subtle tones, pointed by sudden crashes on a small gong suspended in and out of the water. Something about the use of the water gong did feel somewhat hackneyed, though in his commentary after the performance, Mofakham rather touchingly explained that the water was representative of reflecting pools found in traditional Iranian courtyard houses, which are thought to bring heaven into the home. The final work in the program was Daniel Moreira‘s Das Nein-Doch Spiel, which brought the evening to a rather varied close. Moreira’s work employed a wide array of found objects-turned-instruments to establish a self-contained vocabulary of sounds. The piece made apparent its moderate humor, particularly in the false ending, during which conductor Carl Christian Bettendorf relaxed his arms and seemed to signal the end of the piece, only to start up abruptly as soon as the applause began.  Despite the work’s enjoyable charm, it did seem to rely a bit too heavily upon its novelty to stand out as truly unique.