7/20/16 – “Sonic Cluster” – Summer at Eastman series

A review of Olga Shupyatskaya's 7/20/16 concert from the Summer at Eastman series.

7/20/16 – “Sonic Cluster” – Summer at Eastman series

In this installment of the Summer at Eastman series, Eastman alum and current director of Graduate Advising and Services, pianist Olga Shupyatskaya (and friends) put on a concert that featured dance, Romantic era piano and vocal music, modern, and rock. On a PowerPoint slide behind the performers, Shupyatskaya articulated that this would be more like a Romantic-era concert, in that the audience would be treated to many genres in one sitting.

They opened with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 for Two Pianos,” playing the “Non allegro” movement. Shupyatskaya was on one piano, and fellow pianist Futaba Niekawa joined her on the other. The ten-minute long piece also featured local dancer Hannah Campanelli, performing a solo routine that combined elements of modern dance, ballet, and interpretive. Behind her, the music was quintessentially Romantic. Brooding, sweeping, and intensely displaying inner thought, the piece combined chromatic serialism and melody, all while maintaining a dance form. Having a dancer helped the audience connect the music to the dance form.

Next came another two-piano piece, but Shupyatskaya and Niekawa were joined by Spencer Phillips on upright and electric bass, and Matthew Witten on drum set/ percussion. “In Transit” was commissioned from Jung Sun Kang, another Eastman alum. On the aforementioned PowerPoint, Kang described his music as not fitting cleanly into European avant-garde or other modern styles, and noted on this particular piece that “[it is] deceptive jazz language that turns into Baroque counterpoint,” citing Herbie Hancock as an influence.

The first half of the piece was a grooving vibe in 5/4, combining rhythm and melody in the bass and piano, and completely fit within the description Kang provided. However, the second section absolutely sounded like European avant-garde, combining serialism and pointillist sounds and effects, losing the “transit” identity of the first section. It didn’t seem to fit with the first part of the piece, and ended out of nowhere and left the audience a little confused. It was difficult to hear the connection between the two sections, and it felt as though the second half was added “just because.”

For a nice change of pace, Shupyatskaya harkened back to her collaborative pianist days, and invited baritone Nicholas Wiggins to perform Rachmaninoff’s “Romances, Op. 4.” This small cycle of art songs reminded one of Schubert’s sensibility toward the text, but with simpler piano accompaniment and melody that is more chromatic. Wiggins’ big voice is perfectly suited to art song, and his dark and chocolatey sound came with excellent diction singing Russian, emotionally accessing the pain of the first song and last songs “Oh no, I beg you, do not leave,” and “How long, my friend,” the contemplation of the second song “Morning,” and the furtive obsession of the third song “In the silence of the secret night.”

After a brief intermission, Shupyatskaya and Niekawa, along with Campanelli, returned to perform Alexander Scriabin’s “Fantasy for Two Pianos in A Minor, Op. Posth.” Compared to the first piece this lineup played, it was more fantastical (as the title would suggest) and wandering. The addition of a dancer may not be an obvious choice to some, but they made it work, as the choreography pulled together a piece that was decidedly less chromatic and tense as “Symphonic Dances.”

Following that, Wiggins and Shupyatskaya teamed up again for two works, two songs from “Tres Rimas de Bécquer” (“Rima XIII — Tu pupila es azul” and “Rima XXX — Asomaba a sus ojos una lágrima”) by Eastman alum Enrique Lacárcel, and “Ne me quitte pas” by Jacques Brel. The former, sung in Spanish, fit right in with the art song style; it would be difficult for a listener to say that this was a contemporarily written piece. The latter, Wiggins used a microphone to navigate the piece, which was sung in a sprechstimme style (a style of singing that is similar to operatic recitative; it is both sung and spoken). It was treat to hear Wiggins sing three languages so expertly.

Finally, Shupyatskaya teamed up with her new rock band, Dead Silence, which comprised of herself, Matt Werts on guitar, Forrest Green on bass, and Tyler Farren on the drums, to play four songs: “Foul Play,” “Don’t Come,” “Untitled,” and “On Faith Alone.” The sound can’t quite fit neatly into a genre, other than “intelligent instrumental rock that can scream and whisper through the lens of classical.” Each had a unique character, but had overlapping ideas and sensibilities that tied each together. It was surprisingly bass-driven; the audience was treated to multiple solos from Green, and many of the riffs started from the bass.

After a standing ovation from a fully-packed Ray Wright Room with standing room only, this is was a fun and unique concert for the Summer at Eastman series.

Recent Comments
  • Thank you for attending and for taking the time to write such a comprehensive review! Happy to hear you found the concert interesting!

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