Dal Niente, Fifth House groups take listeners to places they’ve never been before
John von Rhein, classical music critic
Ensemble Dal Niente demands to be heard, and it’s heartening to see the six-year-old Chicago new music group, which serves as ensemble-in-residence at Columbia College, attracting the audience it deserves. Dal Niente’s second concert of the season, presented Friday night at the DePaul University Concert Hall, sandwiched two seminal works of minimalism, John Adams‘ 1978 “Shaker Loops” and Louis Andriessen’s “Hout” (1991), between chamber pieces by former Chicago Symphony Orchestra composer in residence Mark-Anthony Turnage.
The excellent program notes referred to the “beautiful commotion” of Turnage’s piano quintet “Slide Stride” (2002), but the description would apply just as well to the other three compositions Dal Niente performed. The hypnotic, repetitive running notes of the early Adams piece, rising and falling in intensity before reaching several ecstatic climaxes, turn commotion inward, but to no less powerful effect than the more extroverted “Hout” (the Dutch word for “wood”), in which a tenor saxophone leads electric guitar, marimba and piano on a manic, canonic chase.
The two Turnage works made for telling contrasts, “Slide Stride” with its quirky amalgam of Stravinskyan rhythmic irregularities and gestures inspired by the stride-piano style of the Harlem jazz great James P. Johnson; “Dark Crossing” (2000) with its somber, richly textured soundscapes for an orchestra of 24 players. The second of the three sections, alive with jazzy jerks and twitches, is pure Turnage.
The performances, two of them conducted by Michael Lewanski, sounded fresh, vital and committed, the many moving parts synchronized with amazing precision. Dal Niente is a model of what contemporary music needs, but seldom gets, to reach and engage a wider public.
You also have to admire the bravura with which the Fifth House Ensemble, another Chicago group of recent formation, is breaking down the walls that separate classical music, theater, video and other art forms, and separate audiences as well. These remarkable performers reimagine chamber music with a multi-media twist, taking their unconventional approach to the concert experience into classrooms, taverns and wherever else they are likely to find willing eyes and ears.
The ensemble’s season opener, which I caught last week at the Mayne Stage – an intimate and inviting cabaret-type space in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood – was “The Weaver’s Tale: of the fearless boy and the loveless girl,” the first part of its latest season-long adventure in narrative chamber music, based on intertwined Grimm fairy tales. Patrons sampled ales and cheeses along with a bittersweet romantic drama, co-written and directed by Rebekah Scallet and Lindsey Marks, acted out in pantomime. The accompaniment consisted of a patchwork of chamber esoterica ranging from Vaughan Williams to CSO resident composer Mason Bates.
From this unlikely mix Fifth House fashioned a clever little show that demonstrated how far talent and imagination can go to create something bracingly different. The 10 musicians include some of the area’s top freelancers, and their expert readings made it seem like the most natural thing in the world to mix and match disparate pieces to complement the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl fable. Kudos to all the performers, especially actor Stephen Ochsner, whose rubbery pratfalls were priceless.
Next time, I hope Fifth House drops the intermission (ruinous to dramatic continuity particularly if the storyline is as slight as this one) and that the instrumentalists tune up backstage rather than keep the audience waiting between chapters of the story. That said, I urge you to check out the two remaining segments of the group’s world-premiere “Weaver’s Tales” trilogy, Feb. 15-16 and May 3-4. Their Internet address is blueberryln.com/stage/5he.
Read the original article on the Chicago Tribune website here.