Ensemble Dal Niente | Ruth Page Center for the Arts | Classical | Chicago Reader
This is a past event.
When: Thu., Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m. 2013
Price: $21, $10 students
When Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas wrote his masterpiece, In Vain, in 2000, he was decrying the rise of the far-right Freedom Party in his homeland and lamenting the undoing of decades of social progress by its racist, reactionary policies. Right from its title, this bracing work expresses disappointment and futility, and after roughly an hour of surging, invigorating, intensifying movement, it ends with a Sisyphean collapse that’s almost a whimper. Musically In Vain recalls the explorations of French spectralist composers such as Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail, who used computer analysis to map the multiple overtones contained in every instrumental timbre so that they could respond to and manipulate those subtleties in their work. Haas has accomplished a similarly magnificent play of harmonies without machine assistance, borrowing the microtonality of just intonation (among other harmonic languages) for a series of episodes that crawl between airy and claustrophobic and between light and dark. The piece also calls for dramatic stage lighting, which for much of the performance leaves the 24-piece ensemble, the conductor, and the audience in total darkness—focusing attention on the electric, hair-raising harmonies. The dominant motif, a downward cascade, is in turn articulated by ethereal harps, tuned percussion, and brass that sounds electronically altered (thanks to the psychoacoustic oddities produced by just intonation), but the piece isn’t really about melody, or even melodic shapes—Haas is interested in the patient, monumental, exhilarating development of massed tones. He reshapes and expands his palette toward what feels certain to be a triumphant climax, only to deny it. The local premiere of In Vain, presented by Chicago’s courageous Ensemble dal Niente, is easily the concert I’m most excited about so far this year. The program also includes the North American debut of Christopher Trapani’s Anyplace Else (2012). —Peter Margasak



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