Ensemble ACJW blows off some 'Steam': Guest artists end residency with debut of David Bruce?s ?Steampunk?

Posted by Gia Vaccarezza

At 8 p.m. on Feb. 4, the Arthur Zankel Music Center was packed with students, faculty and Saratoga Springs residents.

Ensemble ACJW delivered their second performance on the Zankel stage and their eighth performance at the college.

The audience awaited the world premiere of David Bruce's "Steampunk," a 22-minute, five-movement piece based on the Beethoven E-flat Major Septet, another piece that the Ensemble performed.

Janacek's wind sextet began with an Allegro that featured flowing harmonies in the upper octaves. The movement's quick notes created an overall lively spirit.

The Andante Sostenuto had a bass line that drew attention to the bassoon, an instrument that is not always at the forefront of compositions.

In the Vivace movement, the audience was introduced to a piccolo, played by flautist Yoobin Son. There was also a nice series of trios between the bassoon, oboe and clarinet.

Finally, the Allegro Animoto began as a march, but transitioned into an exchange of sustained notes from all the players.

The ending was a series of short notes, of which the final one resonated throughout the hall thanks to the rich acoustics in Zankel.

The title, "Steampunk," does not necessarily create a strong image in one's head and leaves the audience not knowing what to expect.

This only added to the audience's surprise when each player graced the stage in different costumes. Various members of the group attached mechanical cog, or different types of gears, to their clothing.

The first movement, "Vigoroso, fanfare-like," was full of energetic dissonance that resolved in harmonies that evoked images of "Sweeney Todd."

The movement that followed, "dark, brooding, mechanically menacing" featured the violist plucking chords like a ukulele, an interesting choice on the composer's part. The bassoon's low sustained notes helped create the dark, somber tone.

The "Misterioso e malinconico" began with each string player using harmonics. The bass also had notes in a higher octave, an unusual but interesting musical convention.

Toward the end of the violin had solemn, lamenting segments that had a dominant presence in this movement, but the movement sounded best when all the players comprehensively shared the melody.

The string section, which featured harmonics in the fourth movement, "light, comically" created the movement's lightness.

The Ensemble demonstrated their great ability to enter and cut-off notes together with accurate precision.

The fifth movement, "Desolato", opened with a call and response between the French Horn and bassoon.

The collective speeding up and slowing down of the tempo tested and proved the strength of the group's dynamics.

The climax of the piece had a jazz-like bass line that was backed by the other instruments' adrenaline-pumping melodies.

The piece then deconstructed into a largo section with a prominent violin line, which returned to all the instruments' voices, and then slowly quieted to a final oboe and bassoon duet. The final moments created a powerful, rollercoaster ending,

After a short intermission, the Ensemble ACJW began Beethoven's Septet in E-flat Major, the final performance piece.

The Septet had a great melody, used harmonious calls and replies and featured a lot of violin trills and flourishes. It was a graceful, harmonious piece of work, but not as exciting as the two previous pieces.

The piece was a huge change from the sometimes jarring and "uncountable" movements in Steampunk and Mladi that focused more on making beautiful sounding melodies and harmonies.

Still, the Beethoven piece was a great way to showcase the Ensemble's ability to play, not just as a group, but also as individual musicians.

While an ensemble is not about the individual, their Septet had lines for each instrument, allowing players to show off their skills within the few given measures.

The Ensemble's professional musical ability does not come as a surprise. Their many performances around the college's campus have shown their versatility as well as their dedication to various types of music.

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