Paul Dresher Ensemble | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Paul Dresher Ensemble 

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The title of Paul Dresher's new work, "Looking West to the East," poses a paradox instantly soluble to anyone mildly familiar with art in the 90s--or for that matter the nature of the globe. By his own reckoning, Dresher has studied the music of south and southeast Asia for more than 25 years. The influence of those cultures--and of other Pacific Rim composers, including Harry Partch and especially Lou Harrison--has had at least a percolating influence on all of his music; with this new program of works by himself and other like-minded composers (including Harrison, John Adams, and Anthony Davis), he brings it to a boil. Dresher has explained that in assembling it he had two aims: to cross the increasingly blurry line that divides Eastern and Western musical cultures and to integrate acoustic and electric instruments in a chamber music context. Both purposes are spectacularly served by this program, which places Dresher's own music in the most advantageous of contexts. The overarching concept--the synthesis of supposed opposites into new directions for the new century--paints a pretty good picture of Dresher the musical theorist: like Steve Reich, he takes a humanistic approach to minimalism, tempering his repetitive motifs with a comparatively wide palette of tonal colors and shifting harmonies. But his predilection for Asia takes things in strikingly different directions: in "Channels Passing," for instance, he adds voluptuous splashes of Eastern-derived melody, and "Double Ikat" jumps to life with interlocking off-center rhythms that distantly echo Indonesian gamelan music. Saturday, 8 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; 722-5463.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Christiana Ceppas.

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