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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Virtual ‘New Music Series’ concert in Appleton invigorates

Critic At Large

‘Asha Srinivasan’s Portraits Concert’

Screenshot of composer Asha Srinivasan, left, explaining one of her works to moderator Erica Scheinberg. (Warren Gerds)

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Some buildings stand, but theirs is not of a structure of 90-degree angles.

Welcome to the music of Asha Srinivasan.

Her compositions were heard Friday night in the first virtual “New Music Series” concert of the 2020-2021 season for Lawrence University – which is a breed apart in this region because of its music conservatory.

Were this an in-person event, it would be called a multi-media concert. Employed were traditional instruments – flute, piano, oboe and cello – along with voice, electronic sounds, dance and video. In the virtual format, the medium was “cyberconcert.”

The composer and the musicians in this concert are skilled Lawrence University faculty members.

The term “New Music” implies “inventive,” and this concert was aurally and in its elaborate presentation – putting to use the age-old phrase, “by any stretch of the imagination.” In the work, “Dance, Alone,” flute and electronics are the aural foundation for visuals by eight female dancers in individual scenes in movement and dance in a shoreline setting. The musical suggestion of a dream transforming to consciousness includes video/photographic interpretations of what’s happening, too.

Asha Srinivasan deals in impressions. The mathematics of her music is that of an Einstein equation. You don’t hum a melody with Einstein. But there is form – if friendly and inquisitive and searching have form.

Music being music, it speaks its own language that defies simplifying in written language. Onward I go, somewhat describing the sequence.

***

Program: “Asha Srinivasan’s Portraits Concert,” compositions by Asha Srinivasan.

Each work is discussed with musicologist Erica Scheinberg moderating and Asha Srinivasan describing the origins and processes and relationships in her music that sometimes include her childhood in India. This is very helpful. Because of restrictions of the coronavirus COVID-19, they speak from separate locations.

+ “Utthishta” (2014) for flute and piano.

   Erin Lesser, flute – performing in Memorial Chapel on the Lawrence University campus.

   Michael Mizrahi, piano – performing in his home or office.

   The sound – as in all the pieces – is crisp and clear, which is something of a feat. Audio engineer: Brent Hauer. Also present in each piece is the musicians were like victors in sports: They came to play. This piece created duo tension and vigor. I got a kick out of the intensity of Erin Lesser when in producing one aggressive note, her bangs lifted from her forehead.

Screenshot of one setup.

+ “Braiding” (2017) for oboe and electronics.

   Nora Lewis, oboe – performing in Memorial Chapel, and seen from varying camera positions.

   The work is a celebration of the wood of the instrument and its place in nature, with electronic sounds creating aural images of its source tree being sawn and such and then the music the comes from it becoming one with nature and the birds. The musician speaks, too, painting verbal pictures to the artistry. The performance takes sheer concentration – as do all in the concert.

+ “Alone, Dancing” (2003) for flute and electronics.

   Erin Lesser, flute – performing off camera.

   Dancers: Alexandra Kasouf, Anandi Silva Knuppel, Courtney Ann Holcomb, Elisabeth Roskopf, Heidi McFall, Maree ReMalia, Margaret Sunghe Paek, Xitlali Moore.

   Video design: Margaret Shughe Paek.

   Video: Alvina Tan.

    This piece is described above. In a way, it is a showcase of unexpected effort in the cyberconcert.

+ “Mercurial Reveries” (2014) for piano.

   Michael Mizrahi, piano – performing in Memorial Chapel.

   This is fun, sort of. Michael Mizrahi is pumped to play this adventuresome piece with muscular notes. Mostly, he plays the keyboard. It two separate sequences, his left hand forms notes in the low register and with his right he reaches into the guts of the piano to pluck. In the second such sequence, the reach is lllooonnnggg for him to pluck a THRUMMM.

+ “Dviraag” (2009) for flute and cello.

   Erin Lesser, flute – performing to the left on screen in Memorial Chapel, sans mask, of course.

   Horacio Contreeras, cello– performing to the right on screen in Memorial Chapel, with mask.

   This piece moves musically, has action. In the introduction, Asha Srinivasan tells of how the work was commissioned through a four-member consortium of flute/cello duos looking to have more repertoire. In essence, the duos want their voices heard, and “Dviraag” helps explain their passion about what their musical byplay can do. Seeing the players’ individual finger work is part of the fascination in this recording.

***

For a limited time, access is available to the concert at https://www.lawrence.edu/conservatory/ensembles/webcasts.

In many ways, COVID-19 has been an awful experience. And then there are opportunities like this. Access is gained to performances and musicians and ideas that otherwise require more time and effort to get to. “Safe at home” gains some pluses.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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