Ensemble Avantgarde / Earle Brown

Earle Brown: Synergy

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Earle Brown's conducting debut with the Ensemble Avantgarde in Leipzig was an easy one to undertake given it was a program consisting entirely of his own material. The opening and closing of the program are his frenetic studies in harmony via color and motion, "Event: Synergy II" versions one and two. The score for this work, written between 1967/68 is for an ensemble of 19, left to the conductors discretion in choosing either 11 winds and two string quartets or only the winds or strings or of five or six winds with one string quartet. Ideally there should be two conductors making the material more dense, creating more risk and responsibility for the conductor. Along with the conventionally notated pages are graphically notated ones that can be pulled from the score by the conductor in order to shape the music any way he wishes. Needless to say, this creates a music of great movement and color, where notions of interval, mode, and harmony are called into question at every moment. This is also what gives this work, in both its appearances here -- which are very different -- their particular shape and texture. It is what also makes them thrilling every second of the ride. The latter two works here, "Windsor Jambs" from 1980 and "Tracking Pierrot" from 1992, follow a sequence that consists of five numbered sections specify pitches and dynamics and only relative proportional durations. Some pages have conventional notes, some notes without staves, some staves without notes. In the later, using the same instrumentation as Schoenborg's "Pierrot Lunaire," and using percussion instead of the human voice, Brown complicates matters further by interweaving his open forms with those of his closed forms often on the same page, leaving responsibility on the musician to play a piece exactly as it is written even if it changes from performance to performance at the conductor's discretion. Responsibility here also lies on the conductor to make each performance make sense. In "Windsor Jambs," Brown makes use of surrealism in his approach to injecting colors, timbres, themes, and intervals into a set score by moving through his pages and virtually shuffling them and reordering them according to the principle of reverse pitch! What it marks for is a program if deep concentration and musical wonder. That Brown can still challenge musical form and succeed at re-creating it to suit his needs is a wonder after 60 years as a composer. That he can conduct this program with such verve and vitality and pull from an ensemble such a deep and moving performance is a blessing.

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