New York violist Nadia Sirota joins Anubis Quartet for a thrilling concert Monday night

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Anubis Quartet
  • Anubis Quartet
I've heard only good things about Chicago's Anubis Quartet, a saxophone ensemble that's part of the thrilling wave of new-music ensembles devoted to new work, but I regret that I haven't had a chance to actually catch a performance by them. I'm planning to rectify that situation on Monday night when they play a fantastic-looking program at the Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston. The group includes Ryan Muncy, the executive director of Ensemble Dal Niente, which has amply demonstrated its versatility, curiosity, and virtuosity over the last few seasons, and I have no reason to expect any less from Anubis. The group also includes Allison Balcetis, Michael Ibrahim, and David Wegehaupt.

As far as I know the literature of classical saxophone quartet is relatively limited compared to, say, string quartets, and even Monday's concert features some excellent pieces that don't employ all four saxophones. The heart of the program features two works by the brilliant Paris-based Greek composer Georges Aperghis, who has actually written some fantastic works for sax quartet. His piece Signaux (1978) was performed last spring by International Contemporary Ensemble at the MCA by pairs of violins and violas—the instructions specify only that it be performed by a "quartet of instruments of the same timbre and range"—but the recording I have on the CD Crosswinds (Kairos) does use a sax quartet. As I wrote in May in a preview of the concert, the sax quartet:

recorded it three times at three different tempos, then superimposed them to wonderfully disorienting effect—it's full of warped, wobbly harmonies and melody lines that unfold in almost psychedelic cascades. As Aperghis says in the liner notes, "What I wanted was to create a kind of polyphony with always the same ascending scales. The quartets begin to create a kind of grid or woven texture. In the end the rising scales are so mixed together that one can no longer hear the scales but rather a kind of melody arising from the accidental overlapping."

The two Aperghis pieces that Anubis will play appear on that same CD. Crosswind (1997), which is getting its North American premiere tonight, is for saxophone quartet and viola, while "Rasch" (2006) is a duo for saxophone and viola. The program also includes Chicago premieres of works by two local composers: Butchered and Consumed by the Facets of Extension (2011) by Edward Hamel and Blissing Out, getting its world premiere, by Chris Fisher-Lochhead. But what really makes Monday's concert extra special is the presence of guest violist Nadia Sirota, one of the greatest and most versatile exponents of new music in New York. She's a crucial figure in the potent artistic community that revolves around the Icelandic record label Bedroom CommunityNico Muhly, Daniel Bjarnason, Ben Frost, Paul Corley, and Valgeir Sigurdsson all nonchalantly dissolve stylistic boundaries and destroy lines between high and low culture.

Nadia Sirota
  • Samantha West
  • Nadia Sirota
Sirota will join in on the two Aperghis works and she'll also give a solo reading on Bjarnason's Sleep Variations, a piece that will appear on her forthcoming second album Baroque (New Amsterdam/Bedroom Community), a mind-blowing collection that electrically fuses classical technique and structures with electronic textures, overdubbing, and full-bodied melodies. Despite its title, all six pieces on the collection are new works by Bjarnason, Muhly, Corley, Missy Mazzoli, Shara Worden (leader of the great art-pop band My Brightest Diamond), and Judd Greenstein, whose beautiful In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves you can hear below. A handful of musicians and several of the composers provide electronic textures and programming, but Sirota is the unabashed star of the show, rigorously overdubbing multiple parts across the entire album with staggering precision, a meticulous touch, and emotional heft that consistently steers clear of the mawkishness some of the minimalist-leaning works could easily devolve into lesser hands. For Monday's performance of Sleep Variations she'll control a variety of prerecorded viola tracks played by using foot pedals, while adding the primary layer of melodies live. The recording is dazzling and I can't wait to see how it plays out live.

Today's playlist:

Daniel Erdmann—Samuel Rohrer, How to Catch a Cloud (Intakt)
Old 97's, The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 (New West)
Adam Kolker, Reflections (Sunnyside)
Alexis Descharmes, Klaus Huber: Complete Cello Works (Aeon)
Noveller, Glacial Glow (Weird Forest)

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