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An opening-night listen at two String Theory shows

Posted by: Claude Peck under Music, Classical, Minnesota musicians Updated: April 15, 2011 - 12:41 PM

Missy Mazzoli

BY ANDREW PENKALSKI--Special to the Star Tribune

Missy Mazzoli and Nadia Sirota @ the Walker Art Center
Composer/keyboardist Missy Mazzoli and violist Nadia Sirota likely attracted more than just one passerby towards their performance Thursday evening at Walker Art Center. Mazzoli and Sirota, who were the first act on a vibrant bill for the Southern Theater’s String Theory Music Festival, set up shop in the building’s Gallery 2. The frequent collaborators offered three identical, 20-minute sets last night starting at 6 p.m. While I cannot speak for the later sets, the first performance’s audience continued to swell until the final note. It is understandable, considering how Mazzoli’s pulsing keys spread like a beacon through the building. I feel bad for London artist Goshka Macuga, as her opening night may have lost some fanfare at the hands of these NYC musicians.

Their brief set was enchantingly powerful. Their performance of Mazzoli’s “A Thousand Tongues” traced the graceful play between the harmonies of Sirota’s viola and Mazzoli’s electronic rhythms. They also performed Mazzoli’s “Tooth and Nail,” which the duo premiered last month in New York. Here, Sirota plays in greater concert with Mazzoli’s role, both exploring the percussive ripples of the piece. However, Mazzoli drops her presence to no more than a single-beat bass during one of the piece’s final movements, which allowed the textures of Sirota’s instrument to stand out vibrantly. Considering both the emotive and technical wallop these two brought, it wouldn’t surprise me if some stayed for a second listen… or even a third.

 

 

Nadia Sirota / Photo by Samantha West

“Southern Songbook: The Rites of String” @ the Southern Theater
Between the set at the Walker and the standout acts at Thursday night’s season-ending installment of the Southern Theater’s “Southern Songbook” series, this weekend’s String Theory Music Festival may be an event dominated by the female performers. Violist Erica Burton led the Laurels String Quartet through the bulk of the evening’s country and pop offerings. They also opened the night with St. Paul composer DeVon Gray’s piece, “A Hymn, a Spiritual and a Gospel.” It is unfortunate that the ensemble did not get a second opportunity to shine on their own abilities during the performance. The group was stuck playing second-fiddle (pun absolutely intended) to the evening’s simpler bass and guitar parts.

That’s not to say some performers didn’t get the combination right. Doomtree’s Dessa performed two newer works, which mark a noticeable shift from her emcee duties with the Minneapolis hip-hop collective. Her soulful three-part harmonies of “Your Voice Beekeeper” brought a much-needed fervor to the show’s first act. Molly Dean continued Dessa’s trend with the densely looped string and voice of her song, “Defeated.” The dynamic vocal range and exploratory fiddle-work of Eliza Blue’s Appalachian folk pop was also a heartfelt and earnest highlight.

 

 

Dessa / Star Tribune photo by Carlos Gonzalez

It’s just too bad the male musicians didn’t take the stage with the same engagement as the women. Except for the crisp compositions of Minneapolis’ bluesy Mississippi Peace, the brawnier songwriters tackled their work with a noticeable lack of heart. Throughout the night, the artists continued to talk about how string instruments offer this unmatched emotional power. The show proved this to be remarkably true. It was only the pieces of honest sorrow or joy that had any effect.

Playing tonight, as String Theory continues, Owen Pallett, (video clip below) with Nat Baldwin and yMusic strings (8 p.m. at History Theatre in St. Paul).

 


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