REVIEW – “Orchestral ‘mer’ Rewards Meditative Listening” by Sally James

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The sounds tumbled and drifted during a mesmerizing chamber orchestra piece by John Teske at its premiere in Seattle Saturday.

Rather than take the audience on a narrative drive, the composer set loose his twenty-six chamber musicians so that each had some room for improvisation within prescribed limits. The sounds built and ebbed, rewarding those willing to listen without preconception.

Violins, cellos and basses dominated the texture, but there were a few wind instruments. The bassoon, played by Emma Ashbrook, emerged cleanly from the string echoes during some sections. The clarinet, oboe, flute and horn also lent their liquid timbres to the mix.

At different times during the 40-minute piece, we heard minimalist repetitious figures by strings while elsewhere in the ensemble a slow buildup emerged of longer figures.  The rewards came from listening as if watching a river rush by, absorbing some of the constant while watching loops and eddies and foamy intrusions that boomed and disappeared within the whole.

Composer Teske told an interviewer that he was attracted to this performance length so there could be slow transformations for the audience. These were dynamic and enjoyable journeys down temporary paths. During one passage, the lushness of texture reminded this listener of a dark sky full of thousands and thousands of stars.

The composer received a grant from the city of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture to compose the piece. It will be performed again on Sept. 26, 2013, 8:00 p.m. at The Chapel Performance Space. Further details can be found at John Teske’s website.

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sal-shock-physics-extraSally James writes mostly about science at, but also loves the science of sound, music and signal vs. noise. Find her on twitter @jamesian.

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