A Revolution of Experimental Music from The Riot Ensemble

On January 30th, The Riot Ensemble presented an adventurous selection of experimental, contemporary pieces from living composers in a small, intimate venue in SoHo. MeWe360, a moderately sized open space on the second floor, is an interesting choice for a classical music concert. With the addition of the generous free wine bar, this concert recalled the atmosphere of 18th century chamber music, composed for similar audiences.

Livro dos Sonhos by Felipe Lara featured Harry Penny on clarinet and Adam Swayne on piano; it was apparent that the amount of preparation was monumental. With extreme clarinet multiphonics and advanced extended techniques for both performers, this piece was a wonder to behold. The proximity to the musicians gave a new perspective on the physicality of performing experimental music.

The second piece on the program was a UK premiere from Italian composer Marco Momi. Reloading Vanishing was an experiment in innovative and exciting flute techniques, expertly performed by Kate Walter. The whispery vocalizing, ”beatboxing,” and aggressive key depressions made for an experience in woodwind performance.

The Riot Ensemble-- Photo by Claudia Racovicean

The Riot Ensemble– Photo by Claudia Racovicean

The most engaging piece of the evening was Amy Beth Kirsten‘s Speak to Me. This piece examined the story of how Echo, of Roman mythology, lost her voice when Juno discovered that Echo was instrumental in concealing her husband’s many affairs. Swayne put himself on the line with this adventurous piece, using a modified sprechstimme to tell the angry tale, resembling an internal monologue full of rage. After Echo loses her speech, the piece turned pensive and atmospheric, as if Echo was recalling what it was like to speak.

Arne Gieshoff attended the performance and heard his piece Invocation to Ate, a commentary on the public’s celebrity obsession in the 21st century. It was accompanied by a photograph of a naked man in a room with walls covered in celebrity photographs. It was certainly odd to hear this experimental social commentary alongside the throbbing house music from the night club next door, but Walter’s dedication to performance distracted even the most reluctant concert-goer.

This year’s composer-in-residence, Jose Manuel Serrano, composed the piece Espantajo de Resaca. This piece is a tribute to the folk lore from his home town surrounding the markings on trees and beaches that appear after the flood waters recede. This ethereal, ghostly piece was successful in describing the unknown origins of the odd markings and invoking thoughts of paranormal, otherworldly activity. The trio of performers threw their weight into the piece with moaning, ghostly woodwind techniques accompanied by a wickedly difficult piano part.

The Riot-Ensemble-- Photo by Claudia Racovicean

The Riot-Ensemble– Photo by Claudia Racovicean

The evening’s finale was the appropriately titled, The Riot, by Jonathan Harvey, which inspired the entire program, although not the ensemble’s name. This piece was composed to showcase the virtuosity of the musicians, and it didn’t fail to impress. Recalling the trajectory of a riot, the instruments argue, explode into violence, fade, and repeat. With Penny on bass clarinet, “The Riot” had a deliciously devious undertone marked with vicious clashes that were terrifying yet poignant.

The Riot Ensemble’s dedication to showcasing new music and bringing contemporary classical stylings to new audiences in unexpected venues is to be admired, respected, and imitated at every opportunity. The chamber performance is an experience in the cyclical evolution of music performance, and isn’t to be missed.