New Millennium Ensemble Weill Recital Hall
Tuesday, February 8, 1994

The New Millennium Ensemble, a strong new contemporary-music group, made its New York debut on Sunday night with a program weighted toward, but not dominated by, academic composition. The ensemble's members — Tara Helen O'Connor (flutist), Marianne Gythfeldt (clarinetist), Sunghae Anna Lim (violinist), Joshua Gordon (cellist), Margaret Kampmeier (pianist) and John Ferrari (percussionist) — previously played in the Composers' Ensembles at Princeton and Columbia Universities. But the liveliness of the playing, and in particular the expressive warmth of the strings, indicated a knack for wider repertory.
Donald Martino's "From the Other Side," ending the first half, seemed to match the group's inclinations perfectly. Its five movements meticulously depict the transformation of a severe 12-tone idiom into cabaret and cocktail-lounge music. The final movement, "Das magische Kabarett von Doktor Schonberg," is the final stage of the collapse, with a sort of Brahmsian jazz enlivened by out-bursts of slapstick comedy. (At one point, the players shout a lead-in of "One! Two! Three! Four!" but then keep going, up to the Schoenbergian cipher of 12.)

Also on the program were Steven Mackey's "Indigenous Instruments," blending microtonal tunings with seductive although never straightforward diatonic progressions; Milton Babbitt's "My Ends Are My Beginnings," an intricate essay for clarinetist with a spell for bass clarinet in the middle; Henry Cowell's "Four Combinations for Three Instruments," a 1924 work distinguished by two Bachian string arias with piano-cluster accompaniment: Robert Morris's rhythmically alert "Traces" for flute and piano, and Elliott Carter's formidable "Triple Duo," delivered here with exceptional brightness and force.


On the Path of History, and a Moment Out of Time
The past informs a work by Schoenberg, while eight minutes of Boulez break free.
April 16, 1997

How nice it was to forget about history for a moment or two on Monday night The six young members of the New Millennium Ensemble played Pierre Boulez's "Derive" at Alice Tully Hall and after it, the Schoenberg Kammersymphonie, Op. 9.
The Boulez is, after all, an intruder in musical evolution; it interrupts the historical process to which Schoenberg's piece so conscientiously belongs. "Derive" helps posit a new order, yet all one could think of was how exquisitely beautiful its eight minutes were made to sound. Method and musical politics seemed far away.

Mr. Boulez has lobbied strenuously for a break from the past, but his music here, written in 1964, sounded serenely untouched. "Derive" is basically at rest, content at heart with a handful of intervallic and rhythmic gestures. Derived from flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion, ornamental phrases flutter, race or delicately explode around these centers. The impression is of bright movement and uncrowded space, like iridescent moths circling a few point's of light.

"Dérive" made the Kammersymphonie sound much older than it is, a paradoxical thought given Schoenberg's belief in 1906 that it would stand as a groundbreaker. The composer, as the program notes reminded us, was particularly pleased with methods that brought about "an emancipation of dissonance." Yet a tonal past informs every measure of this piece. The lateral movement speaks of statement, growth and return. much in the spirit of Haydn. Note, in contrast, that Mr. Boulez marks his score "Immuable": unalterable, immune to change.

The Kammersymphonie practices the habits of sonata form but super-imposes a largely foreign language. It is like speaking a dialect in which many words take on new meanings but the syntax stays the same. Dissonance or no, Schoenberg's use of accent, phrases in arcs, and careful closure belongs to Brahms. If the thick outer sections of the Kammersymphonie are stiflingly busy, theslow center of this piece is exceedingly beautiful. The performance was in Webern's reduction from 14 musicians to 5.
After intermission came Donald Martino's clever if self-indulgent "From the Other Side." This long, rambling conversation makes its way through five movements. The allusions never stop: from tangos to klezmer, from the second Viennese School to George Shearing, Herbie Hancock and the boogie-woogie piano. The jokes, engineered by flute, cello, percussion and piano, come fast, but Mr. Martino seems to be having too good a time to give his listeners much direction.

In Arturo Salinas's "Awiroma" at the end, five of the musicians put aside their instruments and joined the percussionist John Ferrari in clapping, tapping, shaking, stamping and whispering. The rhythmic and metric patterns, all with Mexican roots, undergo subtle shifts in this engaging piece. It is not easy music for less than full-time percussionists, but it was competently gotten through here.

The admirable players were Tara Helen O'Connor, flutist; Marianne Gythfeldt, clarinetist; Sunghae Anna Lim, violinist; Gregory Hesselink, cellist; and Margaret Kampmeier, pianist. The New Millennium Ensemble won the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation's 1995 Chamber Music Award

An Ensemble That Embraces Spiky as Well as Smooth
Saturday, November 23, 1998
New Millennium Ensemble
Miller Theater

On the evidence of its concert on Tuesday evening, the expert young players of the New Millennium Ensemble have an admirable catholicity of taste and the virtuosity to support it. Polar opposites like Elliott Carter's alternately smooth and jagged "Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux"' works (1985, 1995), and John Adams's harmonically easygoing but rhythmically vital "Road Music" (1995) were both played with warmth, shapeliness and an endearing flair.

There were some real finds on the program. In "Rustles of Spring, 1994," William Albright uses harmonic spikiness in a thoroughly picturesque way. Dark, angular wintry themes are swept away with increasing vigor by colorful, contrapuntally dense scoring. Sharply define rhythms and tandem flute and piccolo lines evoke a wedding dance depicted in a Breugel painting, and a hauntingly beautiful finale evokes the eerie half light of a solar eclipse.

Edmund J. Campion's memorable "Complete Wealth of Time" (1991), for two pianos, draws on influences' from everywhere. Lisztian thunder, insistent early Minimalist figuration, a Debussian lyricism and even a fleeting wave at Beethoven find their way into this hard-driven score, yet there is also a pervasive dark humor that makes the piece seem as original as it is eclectic.
Richard Festinger's "Serenade for Six" began in the wilds of faceless academicism but grew more attractive as it unfolded. And the musicians, giving themselves a few moments rest, played a tape of Jean-Baptiste Barriere's "Hybris," an electronic piece that uses ominous, tactile sounds and some interestingly fluid spatial placements to good effect.