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I’ve reviewed portions of Matthew Welch’s opera Borges and the Other twice before (here and here), and back in May I had the pleasure of seeing the recently finished product at the new Roulette in Brooklyn, presented by Experiments in Opera (of which Matthew is a founding member). The piece was performed by the ever-solid Blarvuster and new music star vocalists Jeffrey Gavett, James Rogers, Lisa Komara, and Amirtha Kidambi.

Both acts of the opera draw from Jorge Luis Borges’ short story The Other, about a meeting between an older Borges and a younger Borges. Act 1 featured the two male singers, dressed in suits and sitting on stacks of books, acting out the parts of Borges at 19 and Borges at 70, accompanied by music that alternately evoked the watery scene of their meeting (the Charles river for the older Borges, the Rhone for the younger), and the dreamlike, fantasy state that both characters assumed must be the cause of such a remarkable meeting. In between Acts, the newest addition to the opera appeared, in the form of a 4-person chorus, who (a la the chorus of an ancient Greek tragedy) commented on the proceedings in dramatic clustery chords.

Act 2, this time featuring Amirtha and Lisa as the two Borges, also both dressed in suits, set a more fervent tone with its rapidly rising and falling pentatonic scales, reflected in the lighting change to bright yellow from the deep blue of Act 1. The opera ended with Blarvuster’s characteristic modular, whirling melodies, sounding akin to bagpipe music (see Blind Piper’s Obstinacy #2).



I attended Experiments in Opera‘s inaugural festival at le Poisson Rouge on January 16. Of particular interest to me was Matthew Welch‘s Borges and the Other excerpts, which I’d heard performed once before a couple years ago; you can see my review of that event on my other blog, kleineKultur. You can see a full video of the excerpts from the LPR show (Scenes 1 and 3 from Act I) above.

A little background: this piece is the second in a series of short operas by Matthew that center around Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. The first opera (premiered in 2007) featured two mezzo-sopranos portraying an older and younger Borges meeting in a dream space. This second opera finds a 70-year-old Borges (Jeffrey Gavett) and a 19-year-old Borges (James Rogers) meeting “in a circumstance of fantasy,” as Matthew puts it. 1969 Cambridge on a bench beside the Charles river for the former, 1918 Geneva on a bench a few steps from the Rhone for the latter.

The adagio tempo and undulating motion of the ensemble in Scene 1, combined with the quivering notes from the vibraphone, paint a picture both of water and an hypnotic, fantasy state. As they discuss the strangeness of their encounter, the older Borges counsels the younger that “our obligation is to accept the dream,” while the younger replies “but what if the dream should last?”

Scene 3 features a faster, more agitated tempo, and younger and older Borges singing sinuous lines in harmony, discussing each other’s work in an equally critical manner. This scene, as with Scene 1, ends with a sort of jig in 3/4 time, which serves to abruptly jerk one out of the fantasy.

Check out a full production of Borges and the Other at EiO’s spring festival May 10-11 at Roulette.


TRANSIT New Music had their first ever DoubleBill three-day festival over the weekend. DoubleBill is an ingenious concert series that has a five-year history of presenting the “latest offerings from composers” from around the world alongside recent works from NYC composers. Here’s my take on Concert 2, Australia/NYC, performed with excellent taste and skill by Sara Budde (clarinet), David Friend (piano), Evelyn Farny (cello), Joe Bergen (percussion), and Andie Springer (violin).


Onliving (2008/2013) by William Gardiner. World premiere of an arrangement of a longer piece.

Opens with piano, a repeating pattern in the right hand, short gestures from the left hand. The sound is gentle, major-ish, resonant. The others instruments join in, and the piece becomes more rhythmically active, louder, the scale more minor-tinged. Nonetheless it is always gentle, an ebb and flow of loudness, always a repeating pattern in the piano. Definitely a touch of minimalism.

Beginning to Collapse (2007) by Julian Day.

Pre-recorded track opens piece. Much different mood than first piece. Sparse, less activity, single notes, strings performing extended, slow downwards glissando. The track fades out, leaving complete silence, then fades back in (this happens several times). Cymbal roll quiet (soft mallets), extended. Crotales, high piano note alternating in quick, regular beat. The piece has a definite awareness of silence, as if both track and instruments trying not to obliterate it too much.

Kokain, Champagner und Beruhigungsmittel [Cocaine, Champagne and Sedative] (2013) by Tim Hansen. World premiere.

Short, quick gestures punctuate sustained notes; gestures’ character is playful, lusty. Piece is rhythmically complex, the group moving their bodies as a result of the effort to stay synced in the meter. Lots of bombast, especially from piano, and some kit playing. The clarinet and cello play stratospheric melody in unison, humorous ending as entire group plays last two, quick notes in unison, eliciting laughter from audience.


|D@L!/\/\P$3S7 ζf(f(2)) (2011) by Pat Muchmore.

I. High notes, dramatic crescendo into fast-paced rhythmic activity, a genteel tonal section punctuated by a cluster in the piano. A chill clarinet solo, abruptly interrupted by vibraphone. Moments when all are playing the same note, which then scatters out into thicker texture. A violent outburst, and then back to calm.  II. Shrill high note from the whole group, oscillating widely in vibraphone. A drastic drop to calm, eerie vibes solo. Strings abruptly switch to rhythmic sawing. Piece lives in the extremes.

Ulrikke (2008) by Matthew Welch for cello and percussion.

Gong-strike, light skittering on the cello. Vibraphone, wide vibrato. Cello plays a light melody in double stops. Vibe plays intermittent polychords. Cello plays melody reminiscent of Matthew’s opera  Borges and the Other. Vibes plays repeating upwards moving dreamy scale. More fully round sound than heretofore in the piece. Vibes now playing downward scale. Cello short-long melody with chords in vibes. Cello melody, quick-paced interlocking accompaniment from vibes. Folk and dreamscape hues.

What I’m Trying to Say Is… (2009) by Angélica Negrón.

Joe holds a red plastic toy to the microphone that says letters of the alphabet in a robotic voice, “i” and “u” (and “a” as a joke during the tuning). Bowing vibes. Ensemble playing light but active. Clarinetist speaking through mini megaphone, Joe popping bubble wrap into mic, the toy robot-voice again. Now David using megaphone, then violinist. Cool unison melody with cello and piano. Layering lines that don’t line up rhythmically, until they do. Piece has a fresh, light sound even with its heavier moments.

What I loved about this performance was that I was unable to make any sweeping generalizations (heaven forbid) about the two halves of the concert. The music really did run a gamut of styles and techniques, and I guess that is the beauty of the global “new music” scene,  that there is no overriding style; you’re always tuning your ears to new sounds.