music we’d like to hear 2013 (II) — Mira Benjamin

I was so happy to be in London for the second concert of the music we’d like to hear series, and I’m really looking forward to the third of the concerts this coming Friday, featuring works for cello and piano by Jürg Frey, Christian Wolff, Jonathan Marmor, Matteo Fargion, and Luiz Henrique Yudo, played by Anton Lukoszevieze and Tim Parkinson. But I’d like to look back for a moment before anticipating the next concert, especially since three of the composers are fairly new to me and I have very little idea what to expect.

The second concert was a solo recital by Mira Benjamin, who is a member of the Bozzini Quartet. The opening piece, Jürg Frey’s “WEN 3,” was a framing, a setting up of a situation. After the first repetition of chords, there was a sound outside. This dyad, which did not change over the course of the piece, became the frame for that sound, setting up the rest of the piece and, in some way, the rest of that evening’s concert. Benjamin has a quality of stillness in her playing and her presence, a transparency to whatever may be happening in or implied by the work.

Something Benjamin did that I’ve never seen before, and would love to see again, was to include informal, informative quotes from the composers, each of whom she had worked with, in the program. Cassandra Miller’s comment about “For Mira” was, “I’m writing this for your masculine side.” The piece is based on an excerpt of Kurt Cobain’s singing that I’ve embedded just below. I was never a fan of Nirvana, and my associations with Cobain range from dark to depressing, but this particular moment filtered through Miller’s and Benjamin’s artistry was a vibrant and joyful experience, and one that I would love to hear again. Apparently Miller is working on a companion piece for this one. I’m very curious about what that will be.

Jürg Frey’s “A memory of perfection” was beautiful, still, vibrant, and dimensional. You can hear another very good performance of it here. Frey says of the piece, “going for something or being nearly stationary — it’s about a different kind of emotion.” Those qualities clearly came through in Benjamin’s performance.

“mukei” was the first piece of Paul Newland’s that I had encountered, and I had the sense that I was learning how to listen to it as it unfolded, feeling a little bit lost, but in a setting that I very much enjoyed. I’d like to hear this piece again to be able to say something more substantive about it. Reading some of the quotes at Sound and Music is a good start, alongside this video.

Richard Glover’s “Chords and Transformations” did what it promised in the title with a gentle, inevitable rigor. As the program note says, “it sees itself out.” There’s something so refreshing about Glover’s work, at least the several pieces I’ve heard recently. It’s as if he is a maker of seeds, who then simply plants and waters them to see what plants they become.

Tim Parkinson says of “violin piece” that “it’s all shapes and sizes,” and it is. It behaved as a set of objects, some small, some larger, placed alongside each other in time and creating an open, friendly context. The simplicity of the material and the way one thing was bookended by two different things had this precise effect, of turning duration into size. It was not a work that could be pinned down as being one thing or another. It was many things. Its openness of form from one moment to the next is gradually perceived to be the driving force and the core of its character.

It was so clear throughout the concert that Mira Benjamin genuinely cares about each of these pieces, and works with each piece on its own terms with real interest and commitment. The whole concert was a wonderful breath of fresh air in the focused and completely willing attention that was given in the performance and evoked in the audience. I don’t think I’m overstating when I say that it truly was music we (the audience) loved to hear, especially as Benjamin presented it with such focus and discipline and joy.

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