Ensemble Dal Niente — Image via facebook.com/dalniente

Ensemble Dal Niente

Liquid Music Series
The Music Room at SPCO Center

Tuesday’s performance by Chicago’s Ensemble Dal Niente, part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series, brought together six works that, in various ways, challenged the relationships between live concert music, recorded and broadcast sounds, and visual elements. Centered in the premiere of Minneapolis composer Noah Keesecker’s The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms, the concert mixed abstract, conceptual pieces with more traditionally “musical” works.

The program began with one of the former, Stefan Prins’s Piano Hero #1, a playful piece in which pianist Winston Choi used an electronic keyboard to trigger a video of a person producing various noises on the inside of a piano. As Choi played through Prins’s score, the video looped around and occasionally moved forward in fits and starts, often confronting the audience with sudden surprises and disruptions.

Next came a set of three pieces played in succession without pause. The first was Rebecca Saunders’s Molly’s Song 3 – Shades of Crimson, which took the form of a series of very deliberate gestures pitting flute, piano, and guitar against radio static and the gradually dissipating sound of a music box. At the conclusion of the piece, the musicians began a ritualistic performance of John Cage’s Radio Music, in which multiple radios, tuned according to the composer’s instructions, surrounded listeners with, once again, mostly static, but also snatches of music and talk. This led into another piece by Saunders, Stirrings Still, a quiet and immersive work in which five musicians, distributed around the audience, created a shifting atmosphere of sound that rewarded active and communal listening.

The next piece on the program was Keesecker’s premiere, written for a small ensemble accompanied by electronics and a projected video. The video portion of the piece was primarily made up of slow-motion shots of hundreds of small rubber balls bouncing their way through an otherwise pristine commercial building, and the music was, appropriately enough, very bouncy as well, adopting some of the conventions of minimalism, but with a particular emphasis on looseness and a sense of fun.

The concert concluded with Enno Poppe’s Salz, which featured the largest ensemble of the evening buttressed by the sounds of a Hammond organ as sampled and played back via electronic keyboard. This piece seemed to move forward in waves, with brief snatches of melody starting, halting, and leading into the next, gradually building in intensity as the sounds of the organ became more and more twisted.

Throughout the program, the musicians demonstrated a commitment to the music and to the creation of an atmosphere that would hold the audience’s focused attention. The last three pieces, in particular, made a strong impression, each communicating a distinct personality, something that is not always easy to discern in contemporary art music. Without blunting the “difficult” nature of much of this music, Ensemble Dal Niente was successful at creating an engaging and varied concert.

Photo by Chelsea Ross

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.