Musicians take it to the edge

What: Velocities: Stroma, Strike, Pedro Carneiro (marimba), conductor: Hamish McKeich. Psyzygysm (John Psathas) and other pieces by Joseph Schwantner, Don McGlashan, Luis Tinoco, Frank Zappa, Iannis Xenakis, Reich and audio-visual compositions by David Downes. Where: Town Hall Reviewed by: Lindis Taylor, Evening Post, Wellington

I was intrigued that this concert of contemporary music was to be found not in the music section of the Festival brochure but in the rather-hard-to-define group of performances sponsored by Air New Zealand. Every festival needs a concert of this kind, and this one was stunning. And it attracted a good house, another matter of congratulation for the Festival, for I've attended a lot of concerts of this kind of music with very few paying customers: they say festivals encourage you to push tastes to the edge.

David Downes' talent for matching science-derived patterns with electro-acoustic music was appropriate here: surprising and illuminating. The Town Hall stage was lit strikingly and was fully furnished with mainly percussion instruments.

The performers were Wellington's two most adventurous ensembles - percussionists Strike and, under the versatile command of conductor-bassoonist Hamish McKeich, Stroma, an NZSO-derived ensemble devoted to contemporary music: they contributed players variously, according to the music's demands; plus Senhor Carneiro.

Strike's players present their sounds with punchy choreography - as fun to watch as to listen to, in Don McGlashan's Work Songs; Jeremy Fitzsimons and Kristie Ibrahim were spell-binding in Reich's Nagoya Marimbas. Without the same visual element, Stroma's players - strings and winds - have been creating an increasing market for music that is not all that easy to sell.

A string quartet and marimba premiered Portuguese composer Luis Tinoco's Ends Meet, neither very radical nor important. Frank Zappa's The Black Page employed wind players: it too sounded passé.

The stars of the evening were Pedro Carneiro, astonishing Portuguese marimbist who made poetry in Schwantner's magical, many-layered Velocities, as drummer in Xenakis's Rebonds B and with the entire assemblage, in John Psathas's Psyzygysm, a tour de force from any point of view. It is genuine music, climaxes built from music rather than mere crescendos. The imaginative inclusion of Carolyn Mills' harp was just one evidence that real musical impulses, materials and structure were in use; both its excitement and its quite were in place. Psathas's work alone would have done me: the audience applauded long and hard.

— Lindis Taylor, Evening Post, 13 March 2002

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