Max Richter’s electronic music proves more monochrome than substantive

By Inesa Gegprifti

Max Richter performed Saturday night at the Arsht Center in Miami.

Max Richter and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble performed Saturday night at the Arsht Center in Miami.

On Saturday evening, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Max Richter showcased his works Infra and The Blue Notebooks.  He was joined by five members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) in a blue background setting, featuring two keyboards, live electronics, piano, two violins, viola, and two cellos. 

Richter, a German-born English composer-pianist, is a Deutsche Grammophon artist, and he and ACME have garnered international acclaim for their idiosyncratic careers. The audience, wide-ranging in age, welcomed the musicians with great enthusiasm.

Originally composed for the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, Infra is a work about the tragic 2007 public transportation bombings in London. written the following year.

<Infra opens with a spotty radio transmission that sets the tone for the dark journey to come. The initial harmonies surface in open sonorities juxtaposed with the electronic distortions. An overall sense of enveloping sounds permeates the whole set, in part due to the heavy amplification of the instruments, but mostly due to the constant homophonic textural movements. The execution of the score from both entities—keyboard/piano and strings—was projected with a clear tone, accurate phrasing, and a fair amount of dramatic inflection. 

The lack of convergence of the two forces, however, gave the impression of a continuous commentary, rather than a joint ensemble experience.

A more prominent beat from the electronics, perhaps evocative of being trapped in underground London, began to build up to the climax of the work. At last, the texture broke away from its motivic monotony into a phasing of sorts, leading to contrapuntal movements with the occasional melodic punctuations and the syncopated bass lines.

The second half focused on The Blue Notebooks, Richter’s 2003 “attempt for music to comment on society and exist as an anti-violence record.” This work includes spoken texts from Franz Kafka’s The Blue Octavo Notebooks, for which the performers were joined by narrator Laura Hooper. Paired with words that lend themselves to the exploration of ideas on realism, absurdity, and existential uneasiness, the music floated in and out of brief musical cells and languid sighing motifs. It was not until the end when the strings, piano, and electronics came together in a powerful culmination, that the work moved away from its established stasis.

Artistic expression is, as it should be, open to a wide variety of styles, and while there is a niche for all types of music, Richter’s straightforward minimalism boxed his musical expression into a mono-dimensional world. While the humanism of his inspirations is laudable, unfortunately Richter’s music never manages to develop into anything interesting compositionally. Glimpses of melodic inventiveness and harmonic interest appeared, but those were overshadowed by the swarming arpeggios circling the same minor harmonic center.

After a standing ovation, the ensemble returned to play a few more pieces from HBO’s show The Leftovers.


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Sun Oct 14, 2018
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