AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Zosha Di Castri – Tachitipo [New Focus Recordings FCR227]

Tachitipo, a set of five works composed between 2010 and 2017, is the first monograph recording from composer Zosha Di Castri. Originally from Calgary, Alberta in Canada and now resident in New York, where she is on the faculty of Columbia University, Di Castri began composing through the Edmonton, Alberta Symphony Orchestra’s Young Composers program and went onto double major in composition and performance. Di Castri is a pianist as well as a composer, and sometimes will use improvisation as a way of forming compositional ideas.

The pieces on Tachitipo demonstrate Di Castri’s versatility in composing for different instrumental groupings; included are works for chamber ensembles and small orchestra, a string quartet, a solo piano work and a piece for voice and electronics. The pieces for orchestra and mixed chamber ensembles show Di Castri’s aptitude for handling contrasts and similarities of instrumental compass and color. In a recent interview, she named Debussy as an early influence; the importance of timbral relationships in her music would seem to bear out the continuing importance of his example.

Cortège, composed in 2010 for the Acanthes Festival in Metz, France, is scored for thirteen piece orchestra. The piece, played here by the Talea Ensemble, is study of contrasts: dark and bright, light and heavy, as muffled drums are played off against the voices of flute and clarinet, and the mood alternates between a compressed, nervous energy and a melancholy languor. Forma dello spazio, also from 2010, is a quintet for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, and cello, commissioned by the Banff Center and realized here by members of the fine International Contemporary Ensemble. The piece was inspired by mobile sculptures and does seem to capture something of their motion: skittering violin and piano and rising and falling undulations on clarinet provide movement over the undertow, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, of suspended tones. The writing features nice timbral fusions of violin, clarinet, and piano in the upper registers.

Di Castri’s String Quartet No. 1, composed in 2016, was first played by the ten finalists in the Banff Centre’s International String Quartet Competition for that year. The piece, energetically played on this recording by the JACK Quartet, opens with a discordant flourish and rides a series of surges and retreats—of dynamics, of swift and slow glissandi, of unsettling harmonics. A subtle rhythmic coherence runs throughout and binds together this otherwise episodic work.

Other pieces included on Tachitipo are the mechanical typewriter-inspired, long title track of 2016 for two pianos and two percussionists, played by the incomparable Yarn/Wire; 2017’s Dux, a solo piano piece performed by Julia Den Boer; and the vocal and electronics work The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named (2013), a commission from the Canada Council for the Arts performed here by Ekmeles.


International Contemporary Ensemble Upcoming Shows

From the International Contemporary Ensemble:

Friday, December 11, 2009, 7:30pm
ICE @ MoCP II: Wired/Lowfirm
Claire Chase and Eric Lamb, Flutes
Campbell MacDonald and Joshua Rubin, Bass Clarinets

Museum of Contemporary Photography
600 S. Michigan Ave.

The electrifying flute duo Wired and the bassy clarinet duo Lowfirm face-off in a concert featuring a precision display of woodwind acrobatics. Music by Steve Reich, Philippe Hurel, and Felipe Lara, with premieres of new works by Pablo Chin, Marcos Balter and Ryan Ingebritsen.

Pablo Chin: Como la leyenda de Ixquiq for two flutes (2009) WORLD PREMIERE
Felipe Lara: Vocalise for two bass clarinets (2007)
Marcos Balter: Edgewater for bass flute and alto flute (2009) WORLD PREMIERE
John Zorn: Sortilege for two bass clarinets (2001)
Ryan Ingebritsen: Residence on Earth Part 1 : El Gran Océano for two flutes and two bass clarinets, with electronics (2009) WORLD PREMIERE

Sunday, December 13, 7 pm
Transfigured Bach
Daniel Lippel, guitar
with Claire Chase, flute

St. Paul’s Chapel
2335 N. Orchard
Chicago, IL

Join ICE’s sensational guitarist Daniel Lippel for a concert of music by ICE’s favorite avant-garde composer, J.S. Bach. Transcribing Bach’s music for guitar is always a delicate process, but one that affords us the chance to hear the works in a new light.

Partita in B minor (orig. violin), BWV 1002
Sonata for Flute and Guitar in E major (orig. flute and harpsichord), BWV 1034; featuring Claire Chase, flute
Lute Suite #3 in A minor, BWV 998

Monday, December 14, 7:30pm
ICE @ the Southern Theater
Claire Chase and Eric Lamb, Flutes
Campbell MacDonald and Joshua Rubin, Bass clarinets

The Southern Theater
1420 Washington Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN

ICE makes its Southern Theater debut with two woodwind duos in works by Steve Reich, John Zorn, Philippe Hurel, and a world premiere by Minneapolis native Ryan Ingebritsen. A “powerhouse of new-music programming” (The New Yorker), ICE brings its tight-knit virtuosity, youthful intensity and emotional chemistry to the Southern stage for an adventurous program sure to melt the coldest of winter hearts.

Steve Reich: Vermont Counterpoint for flute and tape (1982)
Felipe Lara: Vocalise for two bass clarinets (2008)
Philippe Hurel: Loops III for two flutes (2001)
Steve Reich: New York Counterpoint for two clarinets and tape (1985)
Marcos Balter: Edgewater for bass flute and alto flute (2009) WORLD PREMIERE
John Zorn: sortilege for two bass clarinets (2001)
Ryan Ingebritsen: Residence on Earth Part 1 : El Gran Océano for two flutes and two bass clarinets, with electronics (2009) WORLD PREMIERE

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Performances Reviews

ICE does Saariaho chamber works proud

A recent ICE Chicago concert is reviewed:

Chicago has yet to hear any of Kaija Saariaho’s large-scale works, which is a great pity. At least attention is being paid to the instrumental output of this gifted and prolific Finnish composer, a world-class original who just completed the first of two residencies she will undertake this season at Northwestern University’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music.

The Museum of Contemporary Art took up the Saariaho cause Thursday night when it presented an entire program of her chamber works as performed by the brilliant Chicago- and New York-based International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). The crowd received it with rapt appreciation.

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Performances Releases

ICE Cofounder Claire Chase Steps Out With Debut Solo Recording

From the Chicago Reader:

Is it just me, or is the killer new-music group and Chicago-New York presenting force International Contemporary Ensemble responsible for an inordinately large proportion of the exciting new music shows that happen in the city? A few weeks ago I saw violinist David Bowlin give a knockout performance of rarely performed work by Luigi Nono, and I’m super pumped about a program of works by the brilliant Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho happening next month at the MCA.

From the very start one of the key forces behind the organization has been the remarkable flutist Claire Chase, who plays a record release party at the Velvet Lounge tonight.

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Xenakis in New York

Iannis Xenakis
Image via Wikipedia

Two days of Xenakis is coming to the Miller Theatre at Columbia University:

Iannis Xenakis in New York
“Composer Portrait” Concert by International Contemporary Ensemble
Miller Theatre at Columbia University
October 16 & 17, 2009

Presented in conjunction with Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary
On View at The Drawing Center from January 15 – April 8, 2010


Friday, October 16: Iannis Xenakis: Interdisciplinary Connections
-A consortium of artists and experts will join together for a panel discussion
-Panelists include composer David Lang; musicologist, Xenakis biographer, and exhibition co-curator Sharon Kanach; Mark Wigley, Dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; and Steven Schick, percussionist and conductor

Saturday, October 17: Concert by International Contemporary Ensemble
-International Contemporary Ensemble will present a “Composer Portrait” of Iannis Xenakis
-Percussion superstar Steven Schick will play and conduct O-Mega, Xenakis’s final composition, together with other musical selections by Xenakis

Friday, October 16, 7:00 PM
Iannis Xenakis: Interdisciplinary Connections
Free Admission

Saturday, October 17, 8:00 PM
“Composer Portrait” concert by International Contemporary Ensemble
Admission: $7 – $25

Miller Theatre at Columbia University
Located north of the Main Campus Gate at 116th St. & Broadway on the ground floor of Dodge Hall

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Performances Reviews

Mario Diaz de León – Players From Two Ensembles Support One Emerging Composer at Roulette

A recent New York performance from Mario Diaz de León is reviewed:

Part of the anticipation had to do with the performers on hand. The International Contemporary Ensemble, a flexible organization based in Brooklyn and Chicago, reliably attracts large, enthusiastic audiences with its wide-ranging programs and brilliant execution. Here, four members of the group — Claire Chase and Eric Lamb, on alto flutes; Joshua Rubin, a clarinetist; and Nathan Davis, a percussionist — worked alongside players from the Talea Ensemble, a four-year-old new-music group directed by Alex Lipowski, a percussionist, and Anthony Cheung, a pianist.

That an emerging composer had secured the attention of two prominent groups was itself cause for curiosity. Mr. de León, born in St. Paul in 1979, played in hard-core punk bands during the ’90s. When he started to write chamber works for acoustic instruments and electronics in 2001, he combined unorthodox techniques developed by composers like Gyorgy Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis and Giacinto Scelsi with influences culled from free improvisation, noise and black metal.

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General Performances

Concerts that will keep audiences humming

Not sure if you really want to hum this stuff, but has a list of upcoming Chicago classical shows of note, including a few left of center.

Music in the Loft. This is a good time to sample this high-quality chamber music series, presented in an intimate West Loop setting. The 17th season includes such promising ensembles as the youthful Biava Quartet and showcases music by resident composer Conrad Tao, an astonishing 14-year-old, Illinois-born prodigy. Begins Oct. 3-4; $20, $10 students. 1017 W. Washington Blvd.; 312-243-9233

Frederic Rzewski. The characteristic drive and intensity of Rzewski’s music should emerge in performances given under auspices of the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW series, Oct. 5 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance 205 E. Randolph St.; and the University of Chicago’s Contempo series, Nov. 14 in Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Ave. Cliff Colnot conducts; eighth blackbird and the Pacifica Quartet share the latter program. 312-294-3000; $20 (Music NOW). 773-702-8068; $15, $4 students (Contempo)

ICE and Kaija Saariaho. The adventurous, Chicago-based International Contemporary Ensemble affords listeners a rare glimpse into the luminous, mystical chamber music of the celebrated Finnish composer. Nov. 19; $20-$25, $10 students. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave.; 312-280-2660

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Xenakis in concert — no, really, XENAKIS…IN…CONCERT

Iannis Xenakis
Image via Wikipedia

From Chicago’s Gapers Block:

It’s worth repeating, in case you’re thinking that you read that wrong: this Thursday, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) will present five short pieces by legendary composer Iannis Xenakis, as performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), an up-and-coming group dedicated to performing modern and classic works of the avant-garde and, in their words, “advancing the music of our time.” Xenakis’ structurally difficult works require virtuosos who not only possess outstanding chops, but excellent instincts and problem-solving abilities, as the pieces often demand something beyond perfection from its performers, requiring them to make sounds not easily coaxed from their instruments, and to play them perfectly each time. As a result, the ground-breaking Greek composer’s works are seldom performed, and even more rarely by an ensemble so dedicated to making them EXACTLY RIGHT, making this event a rare and essential musical event.

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ICE/Xenakis Site and Blog

ICE/Xenakis has launched a new blog and has the following upcoming shows.

Tracing Xenakis
The International Contemporary Ensemble Explores the Work
of a Modern Master via Podcast, Blog and Performance

“…a baptism by noise and fire that awaits every listener” – Steven Schick

Brooklyn, NY– This spring, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) embarks on an exploration of one of the 20th century’s most prodigious creative minds: the maverick composer, architect, and mathematician Iannis Xenakis.

ICE teams up with percussionist Steven Schick for a series of performances of Xenakis’s explosive chamber music in Boston on April 16, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and in Chicago on June 4, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. In the fall, the Ensemble will bring the show to New York as part of the Composer Portraits Series at Miller Theatre of Columbia University (October 17).

“Despite his undeniable role as a musical giant of the 20th century, performances of Xenakis’ large-scale chamber works are still relatively rare in the US,” says flutist and ICE executive director Claire Chase. “With this project, we have the opportunity to bring this groundbreaking and timeless music to our audiences in Chicago, New York, and Boston. This is music that burns, rocks, grinds, blisters and surges forward with a visceral energy that you don’t normally associate with concert music. It’s a perfect match for Steve Schick, who’s one the most exciting interpreters of our time, and for the boundary-pushing, thrill-seeking young performers of ICE.”

In an effort to ground the experience of this physically charged, other-worldly repertoire for the listener, ICE is also curating a Xenakis-focused blog and podcast.

The Tracing Xenakis podcast, available for download on iTunes or through the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, features musicians of disparate genres, music scholars, aficionados, and Xenakis’ associates. The second podcast, “The Weight of Sound,” is available on April 1 and features ICE saxaphonist and composer David Remnick, Steven Schick, sound artist Francisco López, and Paul A. Miller, better known as DJ Spooky.

The ensemble’s Xenakis-focused blog ( delves into biographical, academic, inferential, and tangential thoughts around Xenakis’ life and work.

“The goal of the blog,” says curator Whit Bernard, “is to become, like the polytope models Xenakis used to compose, a repository of possible impressions–a space to explore. Over time, a picture of Xenakis will emerge that is particular to our ears, our experience, and our time.” To date, contributors have included precussionist Steven Schick, Whit Bernard, DJ Spooky and writer Marc Geelhoed.

The Concerts

Thursday, April 16 at 7:00 p.m.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
For tickets: or 617.278.5156

On the program:

Thursday, June 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
For tickets: or 312.397.4010

On the program:

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Nathan Davis & Cristina Valdes in Seattle

From Wayward Music:

8:00 PM; $5 – $15 sliding scale donation at the door.

Nathan Davis and Cristina Valdes – music for percussion, piano, and electronics

Critically acclaimed composer and percussionist Nathan Davis makes music inspired by natural processes, acoustic phenomena, and the abstraction of simple stories. Tonight he plays his solos for triangles, river stones, and amplified laptop – probed with microphones and exaggerated with live electronic processing. Pianist Cristina Valdes (Seattle) performs the world premiere of CuoRE, a solo piano piece written for her by Seattle composer Donald Stewart. Together they play duos including the US premiere Orlando Garcia’s September 2007 (Remembering Morty), a memorial to Morton Feldman.

Nathan Davis (NYC) makes music as a composer and percussionist. He has received commissions from the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Meehan/Perkins Duo, Ethos Percussion Group, the Jerome Foundation, Concert Artists Guild, and received awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, the Look and Listen Festival, and the ISCM. His music has been performed in the U.S., Canada, Cuba, Europe, Finland, and China, in Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Symphony Space, Roulette, The Stone, LPR, and many others. Several of his electroacoustic percussion pieces are available on a solo cd, Memory Spaces, and his acoustic music is published by Frog Peak. As a percussionist, Nathan is a member of ICE and plays original and commissioned works with cellist Ha-Yang Kim in the duo Odd Appetite, touring as far as Russia, Bali, and Turkey, and appearing closer to home as a soloist at Carnegie Hall and at the Bang on a Can Marathon. He has worked with Evan Ziporyn, Lee Hyla, Louis Andriessen, and Christian Wolff, premiering their music, and has recorded for Tzadik, New Albion, Bridge, Cold Blue records.

Cristina Valdes has performed across four continents and in a multitude of venues including Lincoln Center, Carnegie Recital Hall and the Kennedy Center. As an advocate of new music she has collaborated with and premiered the works of countless composers. Her festival performances include the Singapore Arts Festival, the Foro Internacional de Musica Nueva in Mexico City, the New Music in Miami Festival, and the Festival of Contemporary Music in El Salvador among others. She has also performed with the Bang on a Can “All Stars”, Musicians Accord and the Parsons Dance Company. Cristina holds degrees from the New England Conservatory and SUNY at Stony Brook, and is the recipient of an Arts International Grant, the Thayer Award for the Arts, and an Yvar Mikhashoff Trust for New Music grant.

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