Minimalism at Town Hall

Bryce Dessner Gives the Form Its Full Richness

By: - Apr 26, 2023

Death of Classical, the brilliant music series conceived and curated by Andrew Ousley, was embedded in a Town Hall celebration of Minimalism.  It was a spiritual lift of a special order, lighting the path to classical music’s future in neon reds and greens. The lush curtains draped at the back of the stage were bathed alternately in greens and blues and purples. 

The Town Hall lighting was perfect and transported us with the wonderful sounds we heard of music’s present and future– often chimes and also plucks giving us both the orderliness of the classical form in the basso continuo and the future path in the bell-like tones that enchant us forward. 

The program opened with Ash Fure’s Animal, performed with a live plastic board, waving like a wind machine, keeping a beat, mixing whooshes with clicks backed by deep growls of thunder.  The hall is as dark as a nightclub.  We are left looking at neon and the flapping instrument. We are very aware of the human causing the board to move and its connection to the other electronically generated tones of the piece.  Fure  helps us feel the structure viscerally. The sound engineer Daniel Neumann is pre-eminent in this field.

Aroof Aftab came on stage next, performing Diya Hai and Old Friend.  She was accompanied by Maeve Gilchrist on the harp.  A 2022 Grammy winner, and graduate of the Bekrlee Music School in Boston, her music extends the notion of minimalism, which was central to this evening’s concert.  She blends it with jazz fusion, jazz electronica, neo-Sufi, folk, Hinhustani classical, classical, indie pop and acoustic music. Successfully! 

Billie Holiday’s voice an early influence, is hinted at as is that of Billie Eilish, who Aftab admires.  Tones are hushed, yet full of urgency. The harp replicates what the piano sounding board might unleash if it were unleashed. Dessner improvised.  

The Dream House Quartet performed Dessner, Meredith Monk. Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Thom Yorke, and David Chalmin.  The variety of minimalism, which Dessner suggest begins with a drone, was amply and thrillingly evident.  Dessner, born in the USA, now lives in Paris and the Labeque sisters, who performed on two pianos, are his French family.  

Ash Fure reminds us: ‘We have so few civic spaces left that allow us to commune outside language. And while there is much in classical music culture I find haunting—its colonial history, its homogeneity, its exorbitant cost—the gatherings that tradition calls forth are some of the last in the West to carry an expectation of phone-free focus and collective quiet. I still find it deeply strange and deeply moving that humans come together in silence just so air molecules can bump against their skin at the same time . . . I am drawn to sound because of sound’s ability to draw us into our bodies and into each other in radically present ways."

The evening benefited The Kitchen, a safe harbor for new music.  The new book on minimalism was discussed in a pre-concert panel.  

Ash Fure - ANIMAL (2023)
Stage Design by stock-a-studio Sound Engineering by Daniel Neumann *
Arooj Aftab - Diya Hai, Old Friend 
(Improvisation, feat. Bryce Dessner) 
Maeve Gilchrist, Harp 

Dream House Quartet - 

Bryce Dessner - Haven (2019) 

Meredith Monk - Ellis Island (1981) Arr. Lisa Kaplan 

Steve Reich - Electric Counterpoint (1987), Arr. For 2 Guitars & Tape by Bryce Dessner

Philip Glass - 4 Movements for 2 Pianos (2008) 

Thom Yorke - Don’t Fear the Light, Part 1 & 2 (2019) 

David Chalmin - Eclipse (2023) Movement 1, 2 & 3

Bryce Dessner - Sonic Wires (2023)