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Great Noise Ensemble at the National Gallery

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post• May 20, 2008

great_noise.jpgHow can you not love a music group so cheerfully unstuffy that it calls itself Great Noise Ensemble? Composer/conductor Armando Bayolo put the band together a few years ago from young musicians gathered via Craigslist, and since then has been waging a crusade to "fight for the performance of new American music" in the D.C. area.

And to judge by Sunday's well-attended performance at the National Gallery of Art, the fight is going pretty well. The evening opened with Barbara White's "Learning to See," six spare and precisely calibrated miniatures inspired by artists. Often lovely and atmospheric, they were almost too ephemeral to make an impact and received a tepid audience response. But Evan Chambers's melancholy "Rothko-Tobey Continuum" for violin and tape was a dark, gripping gem, played with an elegant sense of restrained yearning by Heather Figi.

Blair Goins's "Quintet" abounded in lighthearted melodies and would have felt at home in the Paris of 50 years ago, though the odd instrumentation -- a tangled collision between a wind quintet and a string quintet -- led to some mushy sonorities and undercut its charm.  More successful (and substantial) was Bayolo's own "Chamber Symphony." Full of lush ideas and a kind of fierce grandeur, it unfolded with subtle, driving power -- a work worth hearing again.

But the high point of the evening was the world premiere of Andrew Rudin's Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra. Rudin has a gift for the kind of gesture that grabs you by the ears and won't let go, the music building in power as its inherent possibilities unfold. Extroverted, engaging and driven by an almost heroic sense of drama, it received a bravura performance from pianist Marcantonio Barone.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Review: Great Noise Ensemble at National Gallery

The Great Noise Ensemble is among the most exciting and ambitious new music ensembles in Washington, D.C. Their May 18 concert at the National Gallery of Art marked a strong finish to their third season.

Things started off with Barbara White's quirky and cute Learning to See. While most of the score garnered some level of interest, there were moments of real shimmer, like the bowed vibraphone tones that morphed into held tones of other instruments. Such orchestrational touches are always a welcome sign of a composer who has put some real thought into the details of her/his music.

Rothko-Tobery Continuum by Evan Chambers offered a sincere approach to electro-acoustic music, showing a solid sense of balance in content between its electronic and acoustic forces. Violinist Heather Figi played the largely tonal violin part with a healthy Romantic flair, while the speaker contributed a surprisingly varied and expressive synthesized orchestral sound (for work generated in 1992!). The beautiful marriage of content, however, was marred slightly by a too-quiet speaker.
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