DETOUR goes solo at The Cell

This last Friday, DETOUR went solo at the Cell. Founded in 2009 by composers Angélica Negrón, Brian Mark and Alex Temple, DETOUR programs works by emerging composers and that night, UK’s James Bester and Ireland’s Izzy O’Connell premiered works for piano by a bunch of them: Elizabeth Kennedy Bayer, Jeremy Howard Beck, Mark Buller, Robby Elfman, Lainie Fefferman, Joseph Gregorio, Tyler Harrison, T.L. Hine, Brian Mark, Joseph Rubinstein, and Tom Swafford.

From left to right: Jessica Rudman, Elizabeth Kennedy Bayer, and Jeremy Howard Beck.

The evening was taking place at The Cell, a great intimate setting for some solo piano music. James Bester was playing the first half while Izzy O’Connell was given the second. There were lots of very good things that night, starting with Joseph Gregorio’s Out the Window: in a texture reminiscent of a sped-up chordal prelude Gregorio painted a beautiful landscape in sfumato. I enjoyed the slow harmonic rhythm, and the unexpected directions that the piece successively took. One could have almost expected a countertenor vocal line to appear out of the blue, à la Win Mertens

Brian Mark, founder and co-artistic director of DETOUR

Brian Mark, founder and co-artistic director of DETOUR, was presenting Slinding Doors, which was receiving its New York premiere that night. Two opposing forces were active in this piece: one that could sometimes be very obstinate and motoric, and another quieter and lyrical. The form was loosely based on the traditional sonata form and the “drama” was captivating from beginning to end. The sense of direction crafted in strong “vectors” in the bass during the recap was really impressive.

James Bester

Some lighter pieces (in affect—not intention) were featured during the second half: The Firefly Variations by Elizabeth Kennedy Bayer, Farewell to Old Bedford by Lainie Fefferman, and Glimpses by Jessica Rudman. Kennedy Bayer’s set of 12 variations was based on ‘the Ballad of Serenity‘, a theme-song from Joss Whedon’s (Buffy and the Vampire Slayer, Toy Story) show Firefly. Even if overall the idea of some “double variations” (the last 6 were variations of the first 6) sounds perilous (too much of the same?) Kennedy Bayer offered some beautiful pages of piano music ranging from mock-ragtime, to more romantic passages. Fefferman’s Farewell […] was reminiscent of Henry Cowell’s extended piano techniques (Aeolian Harp) applied to a folk theme. Izzy O’Connell sang while gently strumming the piano strings and livening up her vocal line with some piano melodies. A very moving and genuine musical moment. Jessica Rudman’s Glimpses, written back in 2006, are a series of short movements modeled after pieces that she played while learning the piano. From the astringent harmonies of the first movement to the Ogive-sque (see Satie) fourth movement, or the nice counterpoint of the fifth, Rudman showcased a wonderful (and convincing) variety in her piano writing. The wit and playfulness of her last movement brought a lot of relief from the tension built over the first half…

Izzy O'Connell

Finally, Jeremy Howard Beck’s [The] Angry Dome closed the evening with a rare dose of excitement. The piece started (and ended) on a slamming of the fall (the piece that protects the keys when the piano is “closed”) which reminded me of the initial slap! of Ravel’s piano concerto in G, except that Howard Beck was not kidding. Not at all. In a chromatic and thin texture the composer builds tension before activating all the registers of the piano and really giving in the anger (the piece was the result a frustrating real life experience). Overall a remarkable piece for a first attempt at solo piano music.

The performers were outstanding, even if I wished that the distribution of the pieces between the first and the second half had been more even. On a more technical note, the piano at the Cell needs a good overhaul—when the low range sounds like a Moravian cimbalom, you know it’s time to do something about it.

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