Remember how we’re really broke, but we rationed our funds for a week so that we could go see ensemble dal niente‘s can’t-miss new music event, The Party, at the Logan Square/Avondale Arts Center this past Saturday?

It was worth it.

The event was, in a word, overwhelming. The culinary and sonic menu that dal niente put together, with visiting conductor/curator Marino Formenti, was HUGE.

(Here he is. Curating, charming, being Italian, etc.)

The event alternated stunning performances of twenty (!) contemporary works with ten (!) different mini-courses created by artsy caterer Guerilla Smiles. So every time a gong rang, that meant it was time for music, or time for food. We became like Pavlov’s dogs each time the gong sounded. Oh my god it’s time for the music, GET READY or Oh my god the food is here, RUN TOWARDS IT! 

Sounds intense, right? Add to this that there were hundreds of people there. And I wanted to talk to all of them. Friends, performers, composers, sound artists, fans, admins, and music lovers. Suddenly, looking around the room, I realized that six hours was not NEARLY ENOUGH TIME. And I thought I’d have time to live-tweet the damn thing.

I was there for the first four hours, and the musical highlights were many. I’m a longtime fan of Marcos Balter‘s gorgeous string trio Vision Mantra, and Austin, Doyle and Russell gave it an arresting performance, with gossamer harmonics and beautiful little bug-sounds and the sensation of floating. Clarinetist Jack Marquardt held the audience in the palm of his hand during the clarinet solos in Mauricio Kagel’s Osten. During Bernard Lang’s Shrift/Bild/Schrift, the string players appeared to be engaged in a competition for who could violently tear the sh*t out of their instrument more. In my opinion this was narrowly won by the cello. (“I’m worried about him,” I said to Kyle after the performance. “I’m really NOT worried about him,” Kyle replied.)

Both of Greg Beyer‘s percussion solos — one by Xenakis, one by James Tenney — were stunning. He is an electric, compelling performer. During the Xenakis, I was fascinated by all the physical gestures that percussion playing requires. I kept thinking he was gesturing to end the piece and take a bow, when in fact, he was just preparing for the next onslaught of sound. The audience was positively transported. Dear Greg: you probably already know this, but all the time you have spent hauling insane quantities of percussion equipment up and down stairs was worth it. Love, Ellen.

Sadly, the event received a pitiful non-review in the Chicago Tribune, written apparently by someone who was Deeply Against This Idea from the beginning. In an impressive feat, the critic managed to write his review without saying a word about the quality of the playing (which was extremely high) or the atmosphere in the room (missing the chance to use words like electric, jubilant, and ecstatic).

I frankly don’t understand how, if you give a sh*t about the future of contemporary music, you could write a negative review of this event. Sir: may I point out to you that two hundred people, most under the age of forty, just listened to SOLO TAM-TAM for fifteen minutes, and are now freaking out about how awesome it was, while drinking a beer together? THIS IS A BAD THING?

When Chicago Classical Review sent a reviewer to Fjords, I was terrified that they would send precisely this guy — especially because it would be our first review. Trashing us would be so easy: String quartets and poetry and puppets? That’s stupid and it made me uncomfortable. Fortunately, this didn’t happen. And of course, reviews are not that important, and of course dal niente has lots of great press from all their fabulous years of great concerts. But still, let me reiterate: this reviewer is a creative person’s worst nightmare.

Reviewers like this would discourage us from taking creative risks — if we didn’t know any better. The Party was full of HUGE risks.

They paid off.


Photos by Omar Robles.