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The performance by the Iktus percussion ensemble took place at 8 PM on June 4, 2016, at the Firehouse Space, Brooklyn, New York. The concert featured the band performing newly written works for percussion and piano by the American Composers Alliance. The lineup of the ensemble featured percussionists Chris Graham, Josh Perry, Piero Guimaraes, and composer Sean Statser, with Julia Den Boer on the piano.
The concert itself consisted of performances of works by Lewis Nielson, Alice Shields, Scott Miller, Robert Carl, Chris Shultis, Richard McCandless, and Daniel Tacke. The performance included a fair share of improvisation intertwined with the original content. The concert opened with Lewis Nielsen’s Lengua Encubierto, a lightweight percussion exercise that sounded immersing enough and gave Mr. Guimareas a bit of limelight.
We could also hear him recite some poetry in an avant-garde spoken-word fashion marvelously accompanied by the percussion rhythms. It created a strange, surreal feeling that rather intrigued me the second the show started. It worked well as a show-opener, although, it left me wondering if I would have been that impressed if this number was performed somewhere in the middle of the show.
The next piece, Alice Shields’ The Quartet for Piano and Percussion, was stated to be the world premiere, and the key performance bound to set the mood and outline the intent of this concert. It did not deceive the expectations: emotional, expressive, and energetic, this number, inspired by what mostly sounded like traditional Indian music, was fast, bouncy, and practically inviting for a dance. Next, the band performed a medley of Scott L. Miller’s pieces from Jardin Mécanique Rock Opera, which, in my opinion, was simple but straight to the point. Like their original counterparts, these snippets sounded as posh and over-the-top.
The improvised parts embedded themselves into the framework of the scripted content quite well; their sound did not clash with the rest of the work. By the time the band moved to Robert Carl’s piece, ColdNightSnow, the mood was already set. ColdNightSnow was also a world premiere, and its sound fit the title surprisingly well, weaving a dreamy nightly atmosphere with every note played. The collaboration of percussion and piano in this number was simply perfect which made observing this performance especially satisfying. This instrumental song was probably the biggest highlight of the concert.
Chris Shultis’ World’s End Preludes was performed solo by Den Boer on the piano and sounded rather mediocre to me, but you could appreciate the fluency and professionalism with which this number was presented. The piece was fairly morose and melancholic which created a slight atmosphere of hopelessness in the venue. We have also heard another solo performance of Richard McCandless’s Voyager, this time, by Chris Graham on percussion. This work could have worked better if it did not use a pre-recorded track, in my opinion.
Unfortunately, we did not get to hear the performance fully at once because of the technical difficulties; the number was resumed after the problem had been resolved, however, I failed to regain my sense of immersion into the song by that point, so it did not quite work. It felt like the rest of the audience was on the same page with me as I did not see much enthusiasm in them either. I would say that this piece was my least favorite. The last number, Three Canons by Daniel Tacke, also a world premiere, was a peaceful show-closer, contrasting with the two opening songs of the evening. I found it very touching and a little bit similar to ColdNightSnow in terms of harmonies and tonal arrangement. It was melodic, enthralling, and completely compelling.
All in all, it was a curious avant-garde experience. I have never seen this percussion band performing live, which made witnessing this kind of show refreshing and thrilling. The strongest moment of the performance to me was ColdNightSnow; the weakest one – Voyager. The place was picked quite aptly: it was not too crowded inside the Firehouse Space despite a considerably small size of the venue (maximum capacity of 70 people), so it managed to create a cozy, homely atmosphere rather than a feeling of discomfort due to a lack of room (“The Firehouse Space: A Unique Event Space In Brooklyn” par. 1).
When it came to organization, though, not everything went smoothly as the technical problems during Voyager considerably smeared the impression (especially when we had to wait almost twenty minutes before the concert could resume). The only vocal performance at the beginning of the show by Piero Guimaraes was immersing, surreal, and generated an enthusiastic response from the crowd, myself included. I would say, it communicated with the audience very effectively. The live sound differed from the studio sound in terms of volume and the feeling of presence. You can hear the music in more detail.
If the sound was a naked wire, listening to these performers live can almost be compared with touching this naked wire with bare hands. The sound was rich, although disjointed at times. The harmonies played a key role in the show as the piano melodies intertwined with sometimes energetic, sometimes calm, and thoughtful percussion rhythms constructed a solid pillar of sound complete with imaginative sound patterns and inventive instrumental touches.
A majestic performance and a worthy viewing experience with a couple of mild flaws. The weaker moments such as Voyager and World’s End Preludes were outweighed by absolutely thrilling numbers like Lengua Encubierto, The Quartet for Piano and Percussion, ColdNightSnow, and Three Canons.
The Firehouse Space: A Unique Event Space In Brooklyn n.d. Web.