International Contemporary Ensemble | Museum of Contemporary Art | Classical | Chicago Reader

International Contemporary Ensemble All Ages Critic's Choice Recommended Soundboard

When: Thu., June 4, 7:30 p.m. 2009

Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, who died at 78 in 2001, remains one of the most original and intimidating voices in contemporary classical music. His often radical music is a tough sell for orchestras, though, who can be reluctant to program it for audiences who may know they’re supposed to appreciate it but don’t actually like it—it’s not hard to find a Xenakis recording, but chances to see his work performed live are few and far between. He sought to apply tools from math and architecture to composition, constructing his pieces as much as writing them, and he formulated a theory of stochastic music that borrowed concepts from the probabilistic behavior of atomic particles—to borrow a phrase from the New Yorker’s Alex Ross, “he began looking at the orchestra as a scientist looks at a gas cloud.” Approaches like this might sound like they’d result in dry, dull music, but some of his compositions are among the most exciting and frightening ever written. For this program of Xenakis’s chamber pieces, percussionist Steve Schick, a music professor at UC San Diego, joins 17 members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, a top-flight crew based here and in New York. Despite their relatively conventional orchestral instrumentation—there’s no music for tape scheduled tonight, no amplified harpsichord, no computers “reading” graphic notation—these are some of Xenakis’s most satisfyingly jarring works. The evening begins with Schick performing the percussion solo Psappha and continues with several ensemble pieces: Echange (with solo bass clarinet), Akanthos (with lead soprano), and Palimpsest. Closing the show is Xenakis’s final composition, 1997’s O-Mega for percussion soloist and ensemble, in its Chicago premiere. —Peter Margasak

Price: $25, $20 members

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