Monday, January 26, 2015

"Winter Light" program at the Atlas

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The other night I went to the Atlas Performing Arts Center for a concert by the Great Noise Ensemble. My boyfriend and I figured we'd culture ourselves and see this group and enjoy some live music.

But enjoy ourselves we did not. The show opened up with a performance of Fratres, written by Arvo Pärt. It was originally written for string instruments, but this ensemble played it with wind and brass instruments, which may have been why it didn't sound very good. It's a rather short piece, but very slow and dull. Every once in a while you'd hear the squeak of a note gone wrong from one of the clarinets, things that even a lay person can pick out as mistakes.We should have known better and cut our losses and left right then and there, but when you sit front and center, it's difficult to leave politely.

So we sat through the rest of the performance, which was "Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing" by John Luther Adams. In the program booklet we read that this music is supposed to help us connect with God, meditate to "quiet the mind," and try to "lose perspective" geographically (Adams specifically mentions Alaska and the Antarctic).

I didn't think this music sounded like any of that AT ALL, except perhaps the parallel of the expanse of wilderness and the length of this piece that never wanted to end. The only way to describe this piece is "eerie." Each movement was weird and creepy, creating images of dolls from horror movies, swarming flies, and flashbacks to old TV shows like the Twilight Zone. Although "monotone" is not the right word, the piece was very repetitive, and after the first 15 minutes you felt like you had heard it all, probably because you pretty much had. So I made the conscious decision to fall asleep. Not like how I accidentally fall asleep at the Kennedy Center listening to the National Symphony Orchestra, where I like the music but I'm comfy and it's dark and I happen to doze off. No, I actually said to myself, "I'm not going to listen to something I don't like. I'm going to close my eyes, fall asleep, and then it will all be over soon." There were a handful of moments that I enjoyed that sounded like the effervescence of a butterfly, but those moments were as fleeting as the insect itself. There were frequent pauses in the music, and during each one you held your breath, hoping the music would stop. But then they'd begin again, crushing your soul with this "great noise" that I would not flatter to call "music." It was quite depressing; I realize Adams wrote the piece after his father had passed away, but wouldn't you rather write something happy in the memory of your dad, rather than forcing your own misery upon the rest of us?

It didn't even look like the musicians liked the music. They all looked bored, depressed, or in pain the whole time. The bass player barely played anything and looked like he was going to fall asleep on his cushioned stool at any moment. Only the cellist seemed alert and focused, so snaps for her. They also pathetically tried to visually entertain us by changing the colors on the projection screen behind the group. By pathetic I mean I was still bored, and my boyfriend didn't even notice the colors.

I can't imagine that anyone in the theater liked the show (not to mention that the place was so empty, with maybe 50 people there). We were just lucky that we only had to listen to it for about an hour; the ensemble had to practice it over and over again for weeks, if not months! I'm surprised none of them killed themselves. I know I wanted to end it all.

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