In a universe that was not quite New Haven and not quite not New Haven, Ryan Reynolds was clearing the dance floor and checking the strobe lights, disco ball, mixers. He paused, wetting his lips. With one last, wide-eyed look around the room, he began to lay down the beat, a low, certain melting of notes that got the crowd’s adrenaline pumping.
The city snapped back into focus. Four musicians came to life around him as he continued, throwing his whole body into the music. From his left, Kari Dion and Andrew Koeppe unleashed a dizzying, immediately danceable beat, half techno and half klezmer as they rocked two and fro. Lights seemed to dim down a little more around them. From Reynolds’ right, Tim Gocklin and Matt Landry dove in, losing themselves in a techno fantasy as the audience fought the urge to dance.
But this wasn’t New Haven’s hottest new club. Not even close. Much to the delight of music enthusiasts and over-21s everywhere, the shrill-meets-electronic soundscape unraveled inside a CWOS-ready Artspace, where the Akropolis Reed Quintet helped the Second Movement Series launch its second season last weekend.
“The fact that they’re here is humongous” said series co-founder David Perry.
He also added a tip about the evening’s other ensemble: a clarinet quintet that he had coached over the summer at the Morse Summer Music Academy. When he and Isabella Mensz began thinking about the series in 2013, they knew that they wanted to feature not only varied music, but its future practitioners. Inclusion of these young performers (Juliana Sabin, Lisset Morales, Alex Coman, Jonathan Kim and Peter Branch) ushered the group’s mission — not only presenting good and varied music, but its future participants — beautifully into its second year.
The Akropolis Reed Quintet, meanwhile, made clear that co-founders Perry and Isabella Mensz are trying to out-concert themselves — a daunting task after last spring’s performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s glorious Tenebrae — with a lineup of instrumental voices that are as original as they are ambitious. Reveling in the fact that the reed quintet is a relatively young form, started in the Netherlands about 35 years ago, Akropolis commissions and plays largely original music, written with the distinctive fusion of oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone and bassoon in mind.
Like Asaf Peres‘ Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun, inspired in part by Rebecca Black’s now-infamous “Friday” Flowing from “Backseat Fun” to “Uncomfortable Fun” to “Techno Fun,” the piece slowly, gleefully turns the audience’s musical expectations of reed instruments on their heads, drawing out full-bellied, deep and satisfying resonances out among the techno beats.
Or John Steinmetz’ Sorrow and Celebration, a 20-minute response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner that seeks to blur the line between quintet and listener, honoring a nation’s sorrow, by incorporating the audience’s voices, claps, and use of bird whistles into the piece. Written this year, the piece sprang to life as the audience entered into the piece, first hovering tentatively at its edges and then embracing their role, committing to the four notes, hushed utterances of ‘whisper whisper whisper’ and hand-clapping movements required of them.
If it sounds a little gimmicky, that’s because it probably has the potential to be. Luckily, Saturday night’s New Haven audience committed in a big way, Elm Citizen Anne Marlowe proclaiming it “absolutely wonderful” afterward.
The reason why the quintet takes that risk, Reynolds added before he launched into Ton der Doest’s whimsical Circusmuziek as a finale, is simple.
“Whenever something is so new, there’s an element of creation to it,” he said.