Nunc delivers elegant show of contemporary music

Nunc performs music from all eras, but its approach keeps the selected pieces contemporary.  Photo by Grace Flaherty/ Photo Editor.
Nunc performs music from all eras, but its approach keeps the selected pieces contemporary. Photo by Grace Flaherty/ Photo Editor.

The first piece performed by contemporary music ensemble Nunc Monday night in Chapin Hall set the tone for the remainder of the elegantly considered and executed performance – a preview of the seamless movement of the group’s roster throughout the night.

The group opened with “Birkat Hadekereh,” Hebrew for blessing for the road. The eight-minute piece, composed by Shulamit Ran, a well-regarded Israeli-American composer, started with Nuno Antunes on the clarinet. Within seconds, violinist and director Miranda Cuckson and cellist Chris Gross crescendoed in, with Molly Morkoski finishing on the piano. As Ran must have imagined, the coalescing sounds combined to incite a feeling of anticipation in the listener.

The players’ dedication to Nunc – Latin for “now” – was evident throughout the performance in their engaged presence on stage. Nunc, an organization founded as “Transit Circle” by Cuckson in 2007, plays a variety of compositions from different eras. Cuckson and the musicians focus on finding continuity in music from differing historical contexts. In 2012, Cuckson reorganized the group as a non-profit and renamed it Nunc.

Cuckson returned to the stage, moving seamlessly through the three movements of “Ran’s Inscriptions for Solo Violin.” Her gestures and sounds in “Possessed” honored the piece’s name. By the conclusion, her vertical bowing created an appropriately eerie high pitch.

With only a brief pause, she moved into the next piece, a significant shift from “Possessed.” “Rondino” began with Cuckson plucking carefully at the violin’s strings. In the final segment, Upsurge, she returned to the high notes of “Possessed,” framing the larger movement.

Cuckson, Gross and Morkoski took the stage for “Music for Violin, Violoncello and Piano,” by composer Jay Schwartz. In his music, Schwartz draws on the overtone spectrum, microtonality and glissandi.

Morkoski led in softly, playing the piano strings. As the violin and cello joined her, the sounds combined to surround the listener, reminiscent of the all-encompassing noise of an airplane at takeoff.

The program shifted with “Three Intermezzi” for bassoon, percussion and harp. The former players were replaced byv Adrian Morejon on the bassoon, Bill Solomon on percussion and Jacqueline Kerrod on the harp. In 1988, the piece was originally written for the Harp Competition of the Conservative National Superior de Musique de Paris. However, as Vietnamese-born French composer Tôn-That Tiet explains, the bassoon and percussion play key roles in providing balance throughout the piece, rising as equals with the harp.

Kerrod’s playing engaged not only her hands but the rest of her seated figure. The resulting music conveyed a sense of movement throughout the piece.

For the final two works, Nunc turned to the compositions of the College’s professor of music Ileana Perez Velazquez. Perez’s music has been played at concerts in Cuba, the United States, Mexico and throughout South America, Europe and the Middle East.

Velazquez designed “Night Songs” so that each of the three movements could be played together or independently. Representative of the cyclical message of the piece, each instrument moved in and out of centrality.

“Moon Tides” beautifully captured Velazquez’s musings about the influence of the moon on the lives of the sea tides and sea living creatures. Basooneando narrowed the musicians to the bassoon and piano, with the clarinet and harp looking on. The movement’s Cuban influence emerged defiantly in its rhythmic sounds. The inconstant moon served as a fitting conclusion to the three-part series.

With the exception of Kerrod on the harp, all of the musicians returned to the stage for Velazquez’s “Lightning Whelks.” The lightning whelk, a type of snail, boasts a shell that spirals clockwise (a sinistral spiral) the opposite of all other snail shells in the world. In southeastern India, the sinistral spiral was sacred. It depicted the rotation of the sun each day as well as our trajectory from birth to death. Composer Benjamin Grow’s new presence on the stage led the musicians in a beautiful cycle, representative of the rotations throughout the rest of the concert, and representative of Nunc’s constantly new, active presence, switching pieces and performers, keeping the contemporary contemporary.

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