Nadia Sirota & Daníel Bjarnason — Images via &

Nadia Sirota & Daníel Bjarnason

With Minneapolis Music Company
Amsterdam Bar & Hall

Violist Nadia Sirota and composer/conductor Daníel Bjarnason are among the most prominent members of a growing community of classical musicians committed to breaking out of traditional concert formats and challenging boundaries between genres. At their appearance this week in the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series, Sirota and Bjarnason were joined by the Minneapolis Music Company — a brand-new ensemble co-founded and directed by former Minnesota Orchestra associate conductor Mischa Santora — in a program that served as a good introduction to where this branch of new music is today and where it is headed.

The first half of the program consisted of three pieces performed by Sirota on solo viola backed by electronics and recorded sounds. The centerpiece of this set was a suite of three movements from Valgeir Sigurðsson’s spacious and contemplative ballet score, Architecture of Loss. Bookending Sigurðsson’s suite were two pieces by Nico Muhly, the energetic and rhythmically off-kilter Étude 3 and an earlier piece, Keep in Touch, featuring the sampled vocals of Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons.

After a brief intermission, Bjarnason and the Minneapolis Music Company joined Sirota for three pieces newly arranged by the composers for the evening’s ensemble of solo viola, strings, piano, and percussion. The set began with Bjarnason’s Bow to String, a piece that he originally wrote for multitracked cello. Unfortunately, the aggressive first movement was harshened by the venue’s amplified sound — necessitated by the active bar and kitchen in the back — but the latter two movements fared better. Next came Judd Greenstein’s The Night Gatherers, a piece that Sirota performed back in 2012 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl in its original scoring for viola and string quintet. That more intimate arrangement suited Greenstein’s well-crafted music a bit better, especially in the delicate opening and closing sections.

Ultimately, the highlight of the concert was the last item on the program, Bjarnason’s Sleep Variations, which stood out as both an ideal showpiece for Sirota’s muscular sound and a fully formed work with plenty of variety crammed into its 15-or-so minutes. Over the course of the piece, nervous tension gave way to contentious dissonance and eventually to peace, with Sirota’s viola sometimes floating above and sometimes diving into the midst of the ensemble. Simultaneously sophisticated and approachable, Sleep Variations will hopefully catch on among both seasoned classical listeners and fans of all genres looking for something new.

Photos by Samantha West

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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.