August 10, 2012

ICE in flight: Postmodern birdsong meets Franz Schubert

By Hannah Selin, Philadelphia-based violist/sound artist IN the post-graduate abyss

While scientists continue to debate the question of whether birds enjoy their own song, it’s widely known that we humans do - sometimes to the point of obsession. ICE’s concert this Saturday features birdsong-inspired works by Olivier Messiaen and Jonathan Harvey alongside Schubert’s classic Octet.

The concert opens with a performance of Messiaen’s Le merle noir (“The Blackbird,” 1952) by ICE founder and flute virtuoso Claire Chase and pianist Jacob Greenberg. This short chamber duo represents a turning point in Messiaen’s creative life, as it is one his first published works to integrate birdsong. Next, highly acclaimed young conductor Jayce Ogren leads world-renowned pianist Joanna MacGregor and an ensemble of ICE musicians in the U.S. premiere of Harvey’s Bird Concerto with Pianosong.

As Globe reporter Andrew Clements notes, “What we hear of any [bird]song is only a proportion of what it contains in terms of pitches and rhythmic structure.” In composing Bird Concerto with Pianosong, Harvey used slowed-down recordings of birdcalls to analyze rhythmic and tonal nuances of birdsong that normally escape human perception. The result is an intricate, beautiful and at times otherworldly interweaving of piano, ensemble and electronics.

Schubert’s six-movement Octet rounds out the evening with 19th century warmth and goodness. With its unusually diverse instrumentation (clarinet, bassoon, horn, string quartet and double bass), the Octet blends a near-symphonic palette with the suppleness and clarity of chamber music.

This Saturday’s performance promises to spin listeners through quite the gamut of musical emotions and styles—from carefully stylized individual birdsongs in Messiaen’s Le merle noir, to absolute avian cacophony in Harvey’s Bird Concerto with Pianosong, to the alternately playful and serious strains of Schubert’s great Octet. Don’t miss it!

Tomorrow night, August 11th at 7:30 pm in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.