On Thursday, February 28, 2019, an intimate group assembled within Brooklyn’s Roulette Intermedium to hear a program of sights and sounds created by an international roll of celebrated women (and due to a last minute substitution, one man), performed with dedicated vibrancy by solo cellist Inbal Segev. While relatively brief (having run less than an hour without an intermission), the concert entitled “21st Century Women” offered a complete, multimedia experience with pulsating textures of pre-recorded electronics and a dazzling variety of projected images and films.
Speaking only briefly at the opening and between works, Segev projected a kindness and delicate humility that set a calming tone of fascination throughout the evening, even before drawing her bow across the strings. A compliment to her resolute confidence and accomplishment as a renowned performer and pedagogue, Segev’s inviting nature was as transfixing as it was endearing, and emanated from her playing as completely as it did from her commentary.
The program opened with Legend of Sigh by Iranian-American composer Gity Razaz, featuring expressionistic video projections designed by Carmen Kordas. As the composer’s program notes indicated, “Legend of Sigh explores the themes of birth, transformation, and death through the retelling of an old Azerbaijani folktale about a mysterious being, Sigh, who appears every time someone lets out a heartfelt sigh.” Razaz adapted this tale to tell the story of a reclusive, wealthy widow who unwittingly calls upon Sigh as she prepares to end her life and thus embarks upon an adventure of renewal and revelation under Sigh’s guidance. An ambient layer of retro electronics and pre-recorded loops of the cello accompanied Segev as she brought Razaz’s cinematic work to life. Making use of flowing waters, misty landscapes and faceless characters standing in isolation or moving reluctantly in agitated crowds, Kordas’ melancholy imagery effectively complimented Razaz’s storyline.
From English composer Anna Clyne, Segev presented Rest These Hands, which serves in its original form as the opening movement from the composer’s suite for multi-tracked violins entitled simply, The Violin. Inspired by the eponymous poem written by the composer’s mother a year before her death, the work is a haunting and exotic expansion of quoted material from J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1 (BWV 1001 – Presto). Much like Razaz’s piece, Rest These Hands carried the listener on a kind of narrative journey over mysterious, haunting fields of sound and harmony expressive of the influence Clyne’s mother’s words have had over her creative impulse.
A Thousand Tongues by American composer Missy Mazzoli was commissioned originally by cellist and vocalist Jody Redhage in 2009. Described by the composer as “short but intense,” the work was written in response to a text by 19th-century American author Stephen Crane (perhaps best known for The Red Badge of Courage). Vocalizations of the text are also featured as an element in the electronic accompaniment, presumably pre-recorded by Redhage for future performances. The text and electronic textures fluidly intertwined with Mazzoli’s lyrically emotional cello line, symmetrically emerging from and receding into silence.
Indian-American composer Reena Esmail’s Perhaps traded electronics for a more conventional approach to solo cello writing, accompanied by projected imagery from a film by Heather McCalden. Esmail’s dulcet lines hung song-like over McCalden’s melancholy scenes of cascading waves and grey beaches, infused with life by Segev’s rapt playing. The music, which was not strictly synched to the film, concluded a few moments before the film was complete, resulting in a charming moment of confusion as Segev raised her eyebrows at the silent crowd who were reluctant to applaud as the film continued. Segev looked over her shoulder and laughed, cueing chuckles and applause.
As mentioned above, the curious conclusion of “21st Century Women” featured the sole gentleman of the evening, native New Yorker Dan Cooper, whose work Spinning Song apparently served as a last minute substitution for Kaija Saariaho’s Spins and Spells, which was originally billed on Roulette’s website and printed season catalog. Offering no explanation for the substitution, Segev dazzled her way through Cooper’s kinetic topography of contemporary dance rhythms and sampled sounds of spinning coins, bringing the evening to a fun and exciting conclusion.