Review: Ars Futura at NEOSonicFest at the BOP STOP

By Mike Telin

Since performing its inaugural concert in 2013, the Cleveland-based new music ensemble Ars Futura has quickly established itself as a dynamic force in the area’s burgeoning contemporary classical music scene. Judging from their engaging BOP STOP performance on Monday, March 23rd as part of NEOSonicFest, the ensemble is not only a collective of six accomplished players, but flutist Madeline Lucas Tolliver, clarinetist Drew Sullivan, violinist Tara Lynn Ramsey, cellist Daniel Pereira, pianist Shuai Wang and percussionist Luke Rinderknecht also know how to present the music in a way that leaves you wanting more. Their well-crafted program coupled with the laid-back atmosphere of the acoustically pleasing BOP STOP was a winning combination.

The evening began with American composer Lou Harrison’s Varied Trio, a 20-minute work for violin, piano and percussion. The work is inspired by Harrison’s interest in the music of non-Western cultures into his compositions, and here his passion for the Javanese gamelan is in full evidence. Pentatonic scales are abundant and techniques such as the plucking and strumming of the strings inside the piano add to the work’s somewhat mystic qualities. In the percussion, the tapping of rice bowls and upside-down pie pans adds unique timbres to the work’s color palette. Throughout, the players performed with distinction both as an ensemble and during the work’s many individual solo passages.

Introducing Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir (re-visited) for flute and piano, Madeline Lucas Tolliver briefly explained that the work was structured around a series of pitches evoking the sounds of a blackbird, adding that she and Shaui Wang thought it would be interesting to explore through improvisation what the birds are doing before Messiaen’s piece begins.

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