The prototypical classical concert experience in a former warehouse converted to event space in the Westlake district of Seattle comes with all the implied promises: folding chairs, drinks, and a group of edgy musicians who challenge the status quo wearing street clothing. On October 27, 2017 at the 415 Westlake Event Center, Emerald City Music’s feature of NYC-based composer Andy Akiho drew the intrigue of concert goers, filling seats to hear Sandbox Percussion, Akiho himself, and others. Akiho’s compositions–programmed around works by Arvo Pärt and Phillip Glass–set up a performance environment in opposition to the stereotype of a serious “new music concert.”
“Hello! I am Vicki.”
A sputtering female voice from the old Macintosh Plus text reading software declared its identity, progressing to narrate the entirety of the work titled Stop Speaking. Akiho has created a witty and technical work for tape and snare drum, using the phonemes in the speech function to create rhythms into which he fits the snare, either in unison or in counterpoint. The potential gimmicky quality of the work is subdued by Akiho’s construction and control of expectation and completely obliterated by the prolific and precise performance by Sandbox Percussion’s Ian Rosenbaum. The humor in the work removed the traditional “new music concert” environment, instead giving it a boisterous and laid-back aura.
On top of Akiho’s talent as a composer, his performance in his duo for steel pan and cello, Akiho 21, showed he is equally as skilled as a performer. The pulsive layers and fractured bursts of displaced rhythms create a groove, one of which seemingly rotates to create various polyrhythmic patterns, clearly displaying the basics of Akiho’s techniques. The next work, Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt, was a brilliant programing choice by Emerald City Music to complement Akiho’s work. In a work as simplistic as Spiegel im Spiegel, the trap is to approach the work as if it is easy; it exposes, like a magnifying glass, every aspect of the performers’ playing and technique. Pianist Erika Dohi and violinist Kristin Lee brought a superb delicacy and tenderness to the subtly technical work. Dohi’s fluidity and vitreous motions as she played exquisitely mirrored in the sublime sonic resultant.
Akiho put his strongest foot forward with his work Pillar IV, performed by Sandbox Percussion. From the downbeat, the percussion quarter had the audience enthralled with a vigorous zest and machine-like precision. The group was so tight, it seemed that if one of them were to drop a beat, the other three would have known moments earlier and would have already adjusted. With the audience energized once again, Akiho performed his work Deciduous, alongside commissioner and performer Kristin Lee. With moments of warmth and delicacy but also including gritty lines and unique exchanges of textural material, the duo brought the same liveliness and accuracy which has become the gold standard.
In another moment of exceptional programming, cellist Jeffrey Zeigler’s performance of an excerpt from Phillip Glass’ Songs and Poems was full of life and flawlessly executed. Every shift in melodic line was met with a newly infused essence, each note given an acute level of understanding and care. Such playing is a rarity, projecting a love of and likeness to Bach in its conception and execution, as an awe of veneration overtook the listeners.
To finish off the concert, Akiho’s NO one To kNOW one calls for the full ensemble, expectedly to give a raucous finale. Despite the work’s untamed melodic changes and superfluous emotional narrative using an abstract text, the ensemble delivered on its energetic, lively, and tight ensemble playing with grungy, driving bass lines played by bass clarinetist Eric Jacobs, Zeigler, and Dohi. Dohi’s playing brought an additional flamboyant exchange of technical mastery through powerful idiosyncratic grooves. After a standing ovation, Akiho brought back all the musicians who played for an encore performance of Aka. In this communal jam session of a work with undetermined orchestration, performers let loose with carefree, improvised solo sections and overall light-hearted enjoyment.
A concert with this set of performers would be hard-pressed not to awe the listener. Sandbox Percussion let loose like a bombshell of raw talent, while the rest continued to feed the atmosphere through individual gritty, groovy, insightful, light-hearted, and (insert and of numerous similar adulating adjectives) performances. Akiho’s compositional technique was on full display, and all aspects of that technique were presented flawlessly performer after performer, piece after piece.
With the program and performers at hand, it would be hard not to find enjoyment. All it would take is the decision to take the time to listen, and, as we learned at the beginning from Vicki: