Aventa in Auckland

Aventa Ensemble (Canada): Mark McGregor, (flute, piccolo); AK Coope, (clarinet, bass clarinet); Darnell Linwood (horn); Muge Buyukcelen, (violin); Alasdair Money (cello); Eddie Giffney (piano); Corey Rae (percussion)

Soloist: Elizabeth Mandeno

Directed by Bill Linwood

Giorgio Magnanensi: Ameya II
Michael Finnissy: Sesto Libro di Gesualdo
Eve de Castro-Robinson: Knife Apple Sheer Brush
James Rolfe: rAW
Giorgio Magnanensi: ethuiá V
Juliet Palmer: the truth and the truth
Jonathan Mandeno: first movement from Death of a Bullfighter (premiere)

6 March 2015, Auckland University Music Theatre

Review by Sarah Ballard

A visit from Canadian new music ensemble, Aventa was a rare occurrence and opportunity for the hosting University of Auckland and greater community. Not often is it that we are treated to a concert by an international new music ensemble. Headed by the infectiously warm director, Bill Linwood, the ensemble presented a greatly varied lineup of Canadian and New Zealand music that worked well in its symmetries. Sadly this was not met with the wider interest that an event like this should have generated, presumably as a result of the coinciding Auckland Arts Festival.

Giorgio Magnanensi’s Ameya II provided a light and pleasant, if not somewhat unmemorable opening to the concert. The smooth vibraphone-based pygmy rhythms repeated an almost disconcerting number of times before fragmenting into vague pulsations.

Violinist Muge Buyukcelen and flautist Mark McGregor coped well with the twisting intricacies of Michael Finnissy’s Sesto Libro di Gesualdo. Matter-of-factly introduced by McGregor despite its grisly background, the interweaving, ceaseless lines seemed to climb eternally, illustrating a paranoid portrait of the composer/murderer Gesualdo’s troubled mind. Moments of clarity were brought lucidly out of the relentless texture where the two lines came together to liquidly coalesce.

McGregor also gave us a new perspective on Eve de Castro-Robinson’s Knife Apple Sheer Brush, a work that has gained renowned status in New Zealand contemporary flute repertoire. Punchy, gravelly and darker shades were to be found in this rendition, superbly dramatizing the considered pacing of musical gesture, vocalisation and silence by composer.

James Rolfe’s rAW was, as we were told, a deconstruction of a Bach Brandenburg Concerto to its basic elements with segments of radically different genres spliced into the texture throughout. The first part of this work took a leaf out of the modern American post-minimalist manifesto with its blip-glitch erraticism and pop-inflected orchestration. Unfortunately, this music achieved nothing more and far less than the manifesto its intention presumably grew out of. Drawing from a mélange of Bob Marley, Burning Spear and John Phillip Sousa, none of these source materials in this work of recontextualisation made the essence of their origin even craftily discernable, leaving rAW feeling rather undercooked.

The second Magnanensi piece of the evening, ethuiá V, offered an immersive and serenely expansive soundworld. Amplification of the horn allowed the instrument to synergise with the electroacoustic track, creating a convincing relationship between the two elements. Soloist Darnell Linwood, to whom the piece was dedicated, demonstrated great sensitivity and command over the varied material, successfully transforming the atmosphere of the performance space and transporting us to ambient and mystic landscapes.

Expat New Zealander Juliet Palmer’s the truth and the truth for solo vocalizing percussionist provided a satisfyingly positioned link in the dramatic contingent of the programme. Structured by quotations on lies and truth from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Barbara Bush and Saint John the Apostle, the work traversed a fine line, perhaps intentionally so for greater shock factor, between feeling contrived and effectively conveying political statement. Percussionist Corey Rae delivered jarring repeated syllabic pixels, interspersed with ramblings of snare, only to shatter its monotony by screaming bloody murder about body bags and Barbara Bush. In light of this material, the final section, which utilised marbles on snare drum skin, wound up being something quite cathartic. The eventual release of the marbles, allowing them to set off on individual paths across the theatre floor, had the gentle coda announcing “and the truth will set you free”.

In a dynamic close to the programme, soprano Elizabeth Mandeno brought the demise of famous Spanish matador Ignacio Sánchez Mejías to life in Auckland composer Jonathan Mandeno’s premiere of the first movement from Death of a Bullfighter, a setting of Lorca’s elegy to his friend. From the admonitory rattle of piano strings, to strident and annunciatory clarinet gestures, the orchestration pathed a vibrant backdrop for the intense narrative. Elizabeth Mandeno possessed a magnetism that together with the bold, colourful scoring made for a riveting performance. A hysterical wail across a final rumbling trail of resonance from the piano allowed the audience time and space to contemplate the enormity of the work’s emotional efflux.