Only under the auspices of Yellow Barn

Monday, May 28, 2012

Michael Miller writes for The Berkshire Review:

As I expected, the performance of Gérard Grisey’s Le Noir de l’Étoile was unique, but only after being there and experiencing it can I appreciate just how this could only have happened in Putney, Vermont, under the auspices of Yellow Barn. I heard the work for the first and only time until now in February 2011 in Alice Tully Hall, played by one of the world’s great ensembles, Les Percussions de Strasbourg, who commissioned the work and premiered it in Brussels in 1991. There was something special in this New York performance, because the acoustics of the new Alice Tully Hall permitted them for the first time to play the work without amplification. Since the work is written for six percussionists surrounding the audience, most halls require a modicum of amplification to enable everyone in the hall to hear more or less the same thing. The work is immensely complex, and I consumed my dollop of free champagne after the concert wondering if any other group could even attempt to perform the work.

The answer is “yes, and very well,” as James Beauton, Greg Beyer, Amy Garapic, Doug Perkins, Jeff Stern, and Mari Yoshinaga demonstrated most impressively.

The performance at Putney was a great success in itself, but the circumstances added something marvellous to the event. The masterful performance in Alice Tully Hall was a high-profile concert at Lincoln Center. Yellow Barn’s was — at least intended to be — an open-air concert in rural Vermont. Bad weather reports convinced the organizers to move it to the rain venue, the Greenwood School gym. It turned out to be a lovely evening, and it was a disappointment not to sit under the stars for this astral music, but there were advantages. For one thing, the gym, which is less than a quarter the size of Alice Tully Hall, required no amplification for the percussion instruments; for another, the crickets and tree frogs were in full chorus that night and would most definitely have made their contribution.

This performance was somewhat more careful and by no means as loud as the one at Tully. My hearing was perfectly normal at the end of it — not a trace of deafness. I felt the nature of pulsars as time-keepers came through especially well. Pulsars keep their own time, which is entirely alien to ours. In fact the experience becomes something like what a dialogue with a visitor from another world might be like. On the other hand, the wood blocks and other exotic-sounding instruments evoked the rituals of “primitive” peoples — what Grisey himself described as “shamanistic conjuring.” (A student of religions might call this mediation.) In this second encounter with the work, I experienced the music of the pulsars themselves as an epiphany. The percussion music that preceded it might well have been a calling of the phenomena, and the music that followed as a petition or attempt to interact with them.

The space was splendidly decorated with a beautiful colored banner and a ring, and the spinning cymbal, which marks the conclusion of the work, stood at the center of the space and the audience, not at center front stage — a great advantage.

Bravo to Seth Knopp and all concerned for organizing a musical event at which the ears, the intellect, and the spirit were equally rewarded.