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Lisa Moore and Kate Stenberg Soar — Alone and Together

December 20, 2016

Center for New Music

Pianist Lisa Moore and violinist Kate Stenberg performed together last in the summer of 1989. As the violinist mused in her opening remarks to the occasional duo’s recital at the Center for New Music on Dec. 18, it was time they did again. Their reunion, titled “Time Flies,” offered a compelling selection of pieces from various strands of our current post-minimal times, with the majority of pieces composed since the two players last joined forces.

For the record, it was more of a “dual” recital than a duo; Sternberg and Moore performed together on the first and last pieces, and alternated solos in the interim. The cohesiveness of the program and the relaxed, friendly atmosphere, however, provided for a thoroughly enjoyable presentation.

First on the program was Somei Satoh’s Birds in Warped Time II, in which piano ripples provided a bubbling background for the violin’s traditional-sounding melody. The texture changed little over the course of the 10-minute piece; rather, sudden harmonic shifts paired with more gradual, modal inflections guided the listener through a contemplative sonic journey.

Introduced by the composer as a “cute nonet,” Amy X Neuberg’s Nonette was originally written to fill the remaining four minutes of Stenberg’s Scenes from a New Music Seance CD release (with pianist Eva-Maria Zimmerman). Faced with such draconian temporal constraints, Neuberg decided to go “vertical,” scoring the piece for nine multitracked violin parts. An incisive rhythmic opening gave way to a softer, calmer close In both sections, repeated melodic fragments gave the listener the psychoacoustic illusion of vocalizations, which were eventually realized by Stenberg (and her eight prerecorded doppelgängers).

Stenberg’s other solo performance was also accompanied by electronics — in this case in the form of a video. Michael Gordon’s Light Is Calling (2004, written as a cathartic response to the 9/11 attack), uses spliced sequences from a decaying copy of James Young’s The Bells (1926) to anchor a repeated musical groove of hollow-sounding bell tolls. The violin offers a simple elegy, also cyclic in nature, with long held tones climbing to the highest reaches of the fingerboard.

For her part, Moore offered a crystal-clear reading of Philip Glass Piano Etude No. 2 (1984), in which a gradually built polyphony of tonal extremes is then juggled through a series of voice exchanges. As in the other pieces she performed, Moore demonstrated a steely technique, meeting highly repetitious demands with unwavering resolve.

Fellow — and unrelated — Australian Kate Moore’s Sliabh Beagh (Borderland, 2015) similarly tasked the pianist with relentless rhythmic barrages, especially in the piece’s concluding section. Earlier on, the performer was asked to sing — against a heterophonic accompaniment — a searching melody reflecting the piece’s concern with a quest for family and heritage. Both performer and composer had recently discovered their Irish roots, despite their respective families’ long-held belief of a different (and conflicting) ancestry. Throughout the piece, phantom jigs and reels underscored the point with touching musical ambiguity.

Moore and Sternberg welcomed composer Martin Bresnick to introduce the final piece. His Bird as Prophet explored several ornithological connections, from the ancestral affinity between birds and musicians, to Schumann’s eponymous movement from Woodland Scene, to bebop great Charlie (“Bird”) Parker. These sources were sublimated in the guise of slowed-down birdsong in the violin, strands of Schumann motives, and hints of swinging grooves. Shadows and parallels, images and memories, echoed in the music by the way the violin and piano inhabited each other’s resonances. A long-held violin tone, elaborated by the piano into nothingness, provided a satisfying close to a memorable presentation.

Giacomo Fiore is an Italian-born guitarist and musicologist specializing in U.S. Experimentalism and intonation. He teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory, USF, and UCSC.

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