Miller Theatre was nearly overflowing on Wednesday, Sept. 14, as it opened its 2011-2012 season with Part I of the U.S. premiere of Scottish composer James Dillon’s epic “Nine Rivers.” Parts II and III will be performed on Friday, Sept. 16 and Saturday, Sept. 17, respectively.
Part I, entitled “Leukosis,” which refers to the stage of whitening in the transformation of matter, is itself divided into four pieces: “East 11th St, NY 10003,” “L’ECRAN parfum,” “Viriditas,” and “La femme invisible.” Each piece began immediately after the last ended, totaling just over an hour for the full performance. (Dillon’s original intention was for the entire cycle to be played all on one night, not three. The work as a whole is meant to contain many themes, including differing conceptions of musical time.)
Though the concert may have been short, it lacked nothing in monumental qualities. “East 11th St, NY 10003” was performed entirely by the percussion ensemble “red fish blue fish,” with Nathan Davis playing additional percussion and Steven Schick conducting. The piece began with a soft clang of a gong, leading to a low rumbling which eventually culminated in a huge cacophony of percussive sound—one was reminded of the sounds of a New York City street. Though it felt like a very gradual buildup, the ending was exciting.
“L’ECRAN parfum” added strings to the mix, with six violins from the International Contemporary Ensemble playing different variations of a tremolo. At certain points, one or two violins would come in with a quick measure of what sounded like a melody but would quickly be usurped by the tremolo and percussion again. It was almost as if every musician had a different notion of the musical meter, none of which lined up until silence suddenly marked the end.
In the only piece conducted by Donald Nally, the vocal ensemble The Crossing sung “Viriditas”—the longest of the four works in Part I. Again, different ideas of time were evident. If there were any lyrics to the song, they were nearly impossible to understand. Rather, it sounded like many people talking all at once, beginning and ending at different times. There were several impressive solos, yet it was often difficult to even tell which vocalist each was coming from, as the singers were hidden behind their music stands under low light.
The concert ended with the shorter “La femme invisible,” for which the wind players of the International Contemporary Ensemble joined in. As this piece began, red light began to appear behind the players. The light foreshadowed Part II of the cycle, “Iosis,” which represents the reddening stage in the transformation of matter. “La femme invisible” ended on a very short and abrupt note, leaving quite the cliffhanger for Friday’s concert. Yet, the long applause after Wednesday’s performance proved that even on its own, “Leukosis” provided one vibrant evening.