Under the dim lights of Grant Recital Hall, students and faculty were serenaded by world renowned French chamber group Ensemble Zellig and student composers Saturday.
The concert was part of the Department of Music's "Premieres Residency and Festival" last weekend, which featured a master class with Ensemble Zellig, a colloquium with visiting composers Don Freund and Phillipe Hersant and performances of new French and American works.
The ensemble, which consists of Anne-Cecile Cuniot on flute, Etienne Lamaison on clarinet, Silvia Lenzi on cello and Jonas Vitaud on piano, performed world premieres of works by Freund and Hersant during Friday's concert. Saturday's concert consisted of the ensemble's performances of three world premiere pieces composed by Brown music students and three performances by other music students of their original works.
The internationally acclaimed contemporary music quartet is visiting as part of a tour of France, Iceland and various U.S. universities this fall.
Saturday's concert began with Peter Bussigel's GS "LOGLO." The piece was named after a term in Neal Stephenson's 1992 science fiction book "Snow Crash," and refers to the moving lights and logos of corporate America, Bussigel said.
The piece started with a single, long flute note, which eventually blended into an electronic note that was warped and manipulated. Bussigel described the challenges of writing a piece that incorporates both acoustic instruments and electronic sounds. "You have to kind of struggle to fuse the two," he said. However, the transition in the first note was seamless. Long, low notes from the cello and clarinet were then set against higher reverberating electronic sounds, punctuated occasionally by purposeful singular piano keystrokes.
"I hope that it's like a little adventure," Bussigel said. "I hope that it's an experience."
The "science fiction atmosphere" he was trying to evoke was apparent from the beginning. The piece had an overall ominous tone. Moments of shaky vibrato, blended with electronic sounds, felt like an introduction into another world. A frantic and panicked segment beginning with the clarinet and piano eventually encompassed all the instruments as they fervently crescendoed. The breaking point then came as Vitaud became an eerie human pendulum, standing at the piano and slowly moving back and forth from one note to the other, while the rest of the ensemble was silent, save a few random utterings of their instruments. The piece ended in stillness and silence.
The next piece, Jacob Richman's GS "Momentary Lapse," began with quick, punchy vignettes played by each member of the ensemble with small lapses in between. The music was whimsical but with a dark side as well. Long, melodious flute and clarinet parts were interchanged with staccato on the cello, and the piece ended with a single flute note.
Lastly, the ensemble played Aaron Zick's '11 "III. Batalla al Puente," the last movement of a piece he's still composing entitled "This is How you Live A Life in Two Days," based on Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
For Zick, the only undergraduate student composer featured in the concert, the opportunity to have Ensemble Zellig perform his work was especially exciting.
"To have professionals play my music as an undergraduate — it's the greatest thing. Even if you write bad music, if they're professionals, it will sound good," he said.
But Zick's piece was anything but bad. While it's true that the caliber of the ensemble was fantastic, the composition could also stand alone. Zick's work was the most narrative of the night's pieces, with clear rises and falls.
"It's just sort of an exciting, really fast piece," he said. "Hopefully it sounds like a battle."
The incorporation of staccato, forceful strokes and fast, high notes, all contributed to the combative nature of the work. The last third was especially strong, marked by forceful piano playing with sinister, quick notes from the other instruments.
A great deal of tension was built up with crescendoing sound that suddenly cut off to end the piece, leaving the audience hanging in suspense.
After a short interval, Lyn Goeringer GS, Bevin Kelley GS and Kevin Patton GS all gave performances of original compositions. In "Streetlight Study," Goeringer amplified the sound of a sodium halide lamp and manipulated it using a soundboard and other equipment. Her piece began by putting the audience in complete darkness, increasing the light and sound of the lamp gradually throughout the piece and ending by shutting the lights off again. Kelley's "Solar Rattle" was indeed rattling at times, with crashing symbols and clanging chimes colliding with warped and very high-pitched electronic sounds. Patton's "Pulse Grip" began with a sci-fi-like high-pitched noise and went on to include tingling electronic sounds mixed with rhythmic and pulsating beats.