Seattle Chamber Players and Icebreaker IV | Classics of Downtown Jan 29, 2008

by Tania Kupczak

What an amazing array of talent was on stage Saturday night at On the Boards, and what a great variety of music composition they presented. The first thing that has to be praised is the talent and energy of the Seattle Chamber Players. They played their butts off, and did it with such precision and such verve, through one complicated piece after another. And this was the team's second such night in a row! Flautist Paul Taub, in particular, never got a break (other than intermission); he was involved in every single piece on Saturday. Many of the works involved the blending of live musicians with recorded sounds. In some cases this was subtle, such as the chirping birds heard in Eve Beglarian's "Robin Redbreast"; in other cases it was dominant, as in John Luther Adams's "The Light Within". Here, an electronic wall of sound formed a backdrop for the live musicians on stage. In almost all of these blended pieces, the electronic sounds came over the theater's speakers, presumably from the tech booth; I found something jarring in that. Personally, when I go to concerts, I am as interested in the musicianship as in the music. I like to watch the performers, see the dexterity of their hands flying over the instruments, or catch them giving each other a sidelong glance now and then. And somehow, if half of the sound in a given piece was coming from a tape or a digital file, it wasn't the same. It almost felt as though this was a kind of cheating. Even if they were operating a computer, I wanted to see the people producing those sounds. Surprise, surprise: In the final work, William Duckworth and Nora Farrell's "Cathedral", we got just that -- only it was *not* more satisfying. Three computer operating musicians (I guess we call them musicians too) lined the upstage area behind the live players. One, in the center, had an array of iPods and other gizmos, looking kind of like a dance club DJ; she worked all that machinery hard and was as interesting to watch as any conductor or pianist. But she was flanked by two colleagues, sitting at MacBooks, who were so still -- in the midst of a wonderfully alive musical work -- that I found myself wishing them back off the stage. They looked as though they were sitting in a coffeehouse writing emails. I realize that they were contributing to the overall mix, and their stillness came from concentrating on the music... but it just looked odd to me. Anyway, that's one perspective on the evening, since I don't follow the post-classical scene avidly enough to write about the composers themselves. Overall, I enjoyed the whole thing very much. Bravo to those composers, and the musicians -- and as always, to On the Boards for all their hard work in putting all the different elements of this festival together. - Mark Waldstein