In 1972 when his Queens contemporaries were doing little more than getting high and putting in an occasional appearance at an anti-war demonstration, John Zorn, who may have been doing his share of the same, nonetheless composed a Canon to Stravinksy, in memoriam. He was 19, and already on the road to putting his imprimatur on avant garde music.
That piece had its Chicago World Premiere at the International Contemporary Ensemble’s tribute performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art the other night, accompanied by five other pieces before a cameo and memorable performance by Zorn himself on saxophone with Tyshawn Sorey on drums.
Not falling into any neat box of classical or jazz, Zorn’s treat performance at the end showcased what he seems to do best--- tweezing distinct sounds from instruments as they are worked in new ways.
You can hear pizzicato in many scores but in the experienced hands of the ICE strings (Erik Carlson, violin; Kyle Ambrust, viola; Michael Nicholas, cello) you seem to hear it done right for the first time.
Canons, dissonance, irregular rhythms and most of all music for dramatic effects such as in the eeriness of “Walpurgisnacht, A Witches Sabbath in three movements” and the percussion, clarinet and flute windstorms of “the tempest, a masque” are the calling cards of Zorn’s now four decades and counting of work.
Zorn spoke of his work as merely squiggles to bring out the best in the talented artists he writes for. The music itself belies this notion. These are mainly tone poems that capture themes of Zorn’s time—our time. Performances are ephemeral. His music would take up its fair share of defining musical culture of the past half century or so in an imagined time capsule archive.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is one of several museums in the U.S. that have showcased Zorn’s work and ICE is one of many contemporary groups that look to Zorn for inspiration, if not definition.
If you have interest in keeping up with what is happening on the cutting edge of contemporary music the Museum of Contemporary Art seemingly has a commitment to make such a center of their music programming. ICE will return in early 2014 as will eighth blackbird. For information on upcoming concerts visit the Museum of Contemporary Art website or call 312.397.4010.
Photos: Nathan Keay, copyright MCA