SoBe Institute paints a delicate `Rothko Chapel'
BY LAWRENCE A. JOHNSON
South Florida Classical Review.com
Few composers offer such a study in stark contrast between themselves and their art as Morton Feldman offers. Burly and cigar-chomping, Feldman worked in the garment district during the day and, in his spare time, composed pointillist, elliptical music that is as delicate and ethereal as he was loud and gregarious.
The SoBe Music Institute presented Feldman's Rothko Chapel Friday night at the Fischer Clubhouse in Miami Beach, yet another enterprising event by Carson Kievman's fledgling conservatory which is adding a smart, offbeat dynamic to the local music scene.
Feldman was inspired by many of his artist friends, particularly by Mark Rothko, whose huge canvases inhabit the same massive scale as many of Feldman's hours-long works. By comparison, Rothko Chapel, written for the eponymous Houston meditation space where 14 of the painter's late works reside, is a work of atomistic compression.
Scored for viola, keyboard, percussion, soprano and small choir, it spans just 25 minutes yet inhabits the spare, evanescent landscape of Feldman's finest works. Fragments and repeated notes appear and recede; isolated timbres and colors register, mingle briefly and proceed on their way. A sudden mezzoforte viola pizzicato or shift in the choir's harmonics seems seismic amid the prevailing concentrated quiet.
Friday's performance offered an apt retro countercultural milieu in the converted park clubhouse that is the institute's home, with most of the audience, which included a few well-behaved children, sitting on the floor. On a wall, projected slides of Rothko paintings formed a mutating visual counterpoint to Feldman's music.
Some concessions were necessary. A mere handful of singers formed the choir, and in order for the projections to be visible, the small ensemble had to be placed in the middle of the rectangular room, which meant the audience mostly looked at the musicians from the side and back. But the acoustic is so alive and present that the sound was superb just the same.
Kievman is a composer by trade and not a trained conductor, yet, apart from a few fudged entrances, he led a compelling, atmospheric performance. Keeping the precise notation and colors aligned and on track in such an intimate space is no mean feat, yet Kievman skillfully balanced Feldman's precisely notated music.
Members of the SMI Chamber Ensemble, including violist Scott O'Donnell and keyboardist Adam Chefitz, collaborated superbly, and, in particular, the scrupulously calibrated dynamics of percussionist Mark Schubert set and maintained the right evocative mood.
The Feldman performance was preceded by two shorter works cast in the same valedictory spirit. Violinist Taichi Akutsu offered a sturdy reading of Bach's Chaconne, and soprano Rebekah Diaz was an admirable, rich-voiced soloist in Desdemona's Ave Maria from Verdi's Otello.
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