What do Charles Wuorinen, Reiko Füting, Eve Beglarian, Alexandre Lunsqui, Hannah Lash, and Andy Akiho have in common? Over the past decade, this stylistically diverse group all composed defining works for loadbang, NYC’s one-of-a-kind ensemble featuring Andy Kozar (trumpet), Will Lang (trombone), Jeff Gavett (baritone voice), and Carlos Cordeiro (bass clarinet).
The aesthetically varied program presented at Roulette on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 was the first of three concerts marking loadbang’s ten-year anniversary—quite the cause for celebration in the revolving door of New York-based contemporary music ensembles. While this program focused on foundations of the ensemble’s commissioned repertoire, the following two nights featured compositions by loadbang’s members and call-for-scores winners from years past.
The concert kicked off with Charles Wuorinen’s Alphabetical Ashbery, which bobbed along with the composer’s familiar language of harmonic complexity and angular, interlocking rhythms. The ensemble shined in the instrumental interludes, where they dug into Wuorinen’s writing with biting verve. With confidence and precision, loadbang coasted along this wild piece with seductive ease. Ashbery’s colorful and delightful text was well set, but mostly lost between the dense accompaniment and Roulette’s vast and open hall.
Stoned Prince, a monodrama by Hannah Lash with libretto by Royce Vavrek, was the other piece on the program to feature a dramatic text. In this work, the public and imagined private life of Prince Harry is shown in a series of short vignettes. While Prince Harry’s inebriated phone calls and romantic interests may create headlines that sell tabloids, Lash didn’t sell them as dramatic material here. The movements mulled over single musical motives, which aired on the side of sketches rather than fleshed out pieces. And although loadbang presented only excerpts, the lack of narrative and musical substance left me with little desire to hear more.
loadbang also played pieces that focused on text-as-sound, such as Reiko Füting’s Land of Silence and Alexandre Lunsqui’s Guttural I & II. Both composers were extremely successful in channeling Gavett’s voice as another instrument of the quartet. Füting’s tasteful array of extended techniques (breath sounds, hard and soft consonants, and key clicks) was served on a bed of sustained unison tones. The Land of Silence is a curious and warmly inviting land in which the technical prowess of the players isn’t exploited, but channeled into softly evolving bursts of noise.
In Gutteral I & II, Lunsqui uses a not-too-distantly related palette of noise-based sounds. Contrasted with the expansive, spacious world of Füting’s piece, this work is host to a claustrophobic spitfire of mechanical sounds that drive ever forward with the unrelenting character of a machine. At times, the piece resembles a sputtering motor, foregrounding a feast of fluttering, gurgling, and sputtering sounds. Like Füting, Lunsqui creates a dynamic and evolving work with a minimal amount of source material. His artful taste for organic forms and timbral drama were captivating.
The only piece to use electronics on the program was Eve Beglarian’s Island of the Sirens, which she wrote while on a journey down the Mississippi River. Beglarian uses the sound of a flood warning siren as the seed for a slowly blossoming sound world generated by the performers, who in real time imitated audio tracks piped into their ears. The din of ghostly, skittering notes and long, seductive glissandi created an eerie atmosphere. loadbang was obviously at ease in this fluid landscape, where their abilities as skilled improvisers shone through.
loadbang sent the audience away with excerpts from Andy Akiho’s Six Haikus. Akiho used loadbang’s instrumentation exceedingly well here, moving among meaty and consonant layered chords. Each of the three pieces performed from the set had an irresistible groove, and true to the haiku, was potent yet brief. The last piece had the players moving one by one from playing their instruments to playing things like a pot lid and a trombone mute as small percussion instruments. The percussive, driving motives built up to a satisfying unison flourish.
The members of loadbang are highly skilled and dynamic performers, improvisers, and composers, whose penchant for curating contemporary classical programs with diverse aesthetics have earned them a longstanding tenure in the New York scene. I eagerly look forward to what is in store for the next decade of commissions, compositions, and collaborations with this versatile ensemble.