Ten trombonists walk onto a barge. It sounds like the start of a joke, and probably not a good one. But no, it was David Taylor and the New York Trombone Consort, assembling for the premiere of Mr. Taylor’s “The Banned Bamboozler” for bass trombone and “trombone orchestra.”
Mr. Taylor’s strikingly colorful setting of a Catullus poem, in which the text was declaimed with panache by the composer-soloist rather than notated, is just one of eight world premieres featured in Bargemusic’s seventh annual Labor Day Festival, part of its Here and Now series.
All the works intrigued in typically spirited, committed performances. Although the trombone family was diversely represented, more boundaries might have been pushed, in music and in lineup. Elizabeth Adams was the sole female composer programmed, Hsueh-Yung Shen the only minority composer. Still, Labor Day, a holiday dedicated to workers and production, seems the perfect time to focus on new compositions in various forms.
David Shohl’s atmospheric “Swan Dive” began the concert with what sounded like an ending. Eerie chords from Greg Zuber on vibraphone, glockenspiel and crotales surrounded the elegant flute line of his wife, Patricia Zuber, which aped a flying swan’s wing strokes with breathy tremolo. The Zubers also commissioned Mr. Shen’s “Follies From the Sea-Marsh,” in which the ancient melody of “Les Folies d’Espagne” is layered with the theme from Webern’s Opus 1 “Passacaglia.” A promising idea scored for flute and marimba, “Follies” proved too conventional a series of dialogic episodes.
Four of the works involved the piano. Randall Woolf’s bold “Anti-Fragile Études #1: Small Losses” was inspired by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book “Antifragile,” the idea being to compose a piece that benefits from unanticipated shocks in performance. Jennifer Choi (violin) and Kathleen Supové (piano) shared simple building blocks, pushing them into moods of ferocious alarum and static wait. The étude’s energy paired well with Ms. Adams’s “Daylight, Housing Crisis, Touch,” an absorbingly still work for the pianist Ishmael Wallace in which clusters of gently suspended chords, played with subtle variations of articulation and resonance, seem to reach for a resolution that never comes.
Michael Brown’s impressive “Two Movements for Cello and Piano” is the product of a confident young composer with a talent for precision. The first, “Improvisation,” is deliberately free of structure, and leaves the cellist (Nicholas Canellakis) to struggle fruitlessly. “Dance” was inspired by Bach’s gigues, and if it drops their characteristic rhythms, it keeps and develops a keen propulsion, despite quirky interruptions. Mr. Brown’s music looked forward, while David Del Tredici’s “The Last Violin,” written for Bargemusic’s director, Mark Peskanov, was charmingly Schumannesque.
That left the stage for Mr. Taylor. Along with “The Banned Bamboozler,” he played “Vamps Dance,” a jam for violin and bass trombone. It’s an odd combination, but Mr. Taylor said that realizing Mr. Peskanov’s sound was occasionally like that of a horn helped him integrate the two.(That was meant as a compliment, I think.) In performance, the trombone dominated, drawing attention to Mr. Taylor’s remarkable versatility, particularly the braying, elephantine sound he produced in one of three vamps.
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