Ensemble Ibis opens the door to bracing contemporary works

By Lawrence Budmen

Shawn Crouch conducted Ensemble Ibis in music of Pintscher, Hindman and Temsittichok Saturday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

One can always count on Shawn Crouch to present enterprising and challenging programs of contemporary music with Ensemble Ibis at the University of Miami. Two world premieres and a recent score by one of Europe’s most significant modernist composers comprised a concert dubbed “Keys to My House” on Saturday night at UM Gusman Concert Hall.

The program commenced with the premiere of Gasha Gasha by Chawin Temsittichok. Currently pursuing a master’s degree at the Frost School of Music, Temsittichok has fused Asian culture with a post-modern classical sensibility. His concept is based on the sound of the Gashapon machine, a vending machine in Japan that dispenses small toys. Scored for 16 players, the work features recognizable rhythmic figures within a blurred soundscape. 

The composer clearly has a fine flair for ensemble textures but, for all its ingenuity, the nearly ten-minute opus tends to sound like a gimmick. Temsittichok displays a keen ear for string and brass timbres and one wants to hear more from his output minus the imitative cushion. Ibis associate conductor Davild Vess led a well-rehearsed and coordinated performance that was well received by a small but adventurous audience.

The first performance of Untitled III by Frost composition professor Dorothy Hindman proved a diverting, 16-minute musical road trip in translating speech into instrumental sounds. In a preconcert discussion, Hindman revealed that she based the work on verbal comments from a tape of a recording session that pianist Jacob Mason (Hindman’s son) did several years ago with the late double bass player Robert Black. Through processing and manipulation, Hindman translated Mason’s words into a digital score which she then transformed into a concerto for piano and chamber orchestra sans electronics. 

The result is an instrumental tapestry in which the piano commands the clearest thematic fragments. There are some sinister touches as when the pianist strikes or strums the instrument’s strings.

Jacob Mason

The keyboard writing is the score’s most effective element and Mason, a Frost alumnus, was fully equal to its demands. His rock-solid technique and questing intellect are often manifest in this kind of complex, thorny music. With Crouch guiding a meticulous ensemble reading, Mason brought out the work’s strengths. Hindman, Mason and Crouch were enthusiastically applauded.

The real high point of the concert was Mason and Crouch’s splendid reading of NUR for piano and ensemble by 2023 Frost distinguished composer in residence Matthias Pintscher. Pintscher has been a familiar presence at the New World Symphony, leading the orchestral academy’s Sounds of the Times concerts almost annually. He conducted NUR during that ensemble’s Covid year of streamed only concerts in 2021.

On that occasion, the three-movement, 25-minute opus seemed diffuse and less than coherent although not without some fine writing along the way. Hearing the music live and in person, the work emerged quite differently. This expertly conceived work needs to be experienced in the concert hall where Pintscher’s expert ear for timbral blocks of sound and effects can make their full effect.

NUR is both the Hebrew and Arabic word for fire. The first movement takes up nearly half the piece. Pintscher’s designation of “lightly, floating” aptly describes its playful, yet serious character. The horn is almost a second soloist throughout the work and the opening movement features harp, celesta and solo cello at pivotal moments. In a brilliant stroke, chimes briefly meld with the solo piano. 

A mostly quiet interlude, the second movement includes two solo opportunities for the double bass that almost resound in a whisper. The fractured motifs of the finale suggested a modernist, reprocessed take on Prokofiev in a scherzo-like phantasmagoria. This vital score is imbued with masterful craftsmanship.

Mason brilliantly conveyed the intricacies of the daunting keyboard writing and Crouch directed a tightly conceived illumination of the score’s varied colors. The enlarged ensemble played with polish and verve in both corporate and solo episodes. Pintscher was not present, yet NUR received the ovation of the night with cheers for Mason, Crouch and the players. The evening again displayed the high artistic standards of Crouch’s leadership of this vital and important contemporary music group.

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Sun Oct 8, 2023
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