Review: ‘10 Synchronisms’ at A Change of Harp

Conceived and directed by Elizabeth Huston, the current two-night presentation of 10 Synchronisms by Argentine-American composer Mario Davidovsky–created between 1963 and 2006, and produced here by A Change of Harp–offers an enriching fusion of groundbreaking modern music with traditional historic architecture. Staged in different locations throughout the interior of West Philadelphia’s 19th-century Holy Apostles and the Mediator Episcopal Church, attendees move up and down the stairs, from room to room, to enjoy “a journey of new sounds in old spaces.” Huston also gives us the opportunity to hear most of the chronological sequence of Davidovsky’s pieces together, with only “Synchronisms #4” (composed for a full chorus) and “Synchronisms #7” (for full orchestra) eliminated because of their scale.

Emma Resmini. Photo by Kevin Watkins.

The ten short electro-acoustic solo and chamber compositions (the second installment in Huston’s “Composit Series” that she premiered in the 2014 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, with Luciano Berio’s 14 Sequenzas at the First Unitarian Church) are performed by fifteen live musicians interacting with pre-recorded electronically generated sounds by BEEP (Boyer Electroacoustic Ensemble Project, comprising Dan Killion, Josh Carey, Jon Mayse, Kyle Blessing, and Spencer Edgers), under the direction of Adam Vidiksis. Davidovsky’s challenging concept employs counterpoints and layering, coordination and chance, discord and repetition, across a spectrum of tones and timbres. Throughout the work, we hear the range and details of sound; there is trilling and pounding, shrill high notes, resonant reverberations, and industrial clanging, which at times differentiate between the natural and the mechanical, and at other times confuse them, when the pre-recorded electronic noises and the live classical instruments mimic each other and become indistinguishable.

Temple Percussion Ensemble. Photo by Kevin Watkins.

Huston adds to that the acoustic variables in the different areas of the church and the visual delights of its elaborate Neo-Gothic style, for a fully immersive sensory exploration of sound and space, and a unique experience of sound in space. Following the descriptions given by the composer, “Synchronisms #1” for flute is masterfully performed by Emma Resmini in a large subterranean recreation room to play off its echoes, whereas “Synchronisms #2” is done in the dry space of a ground-level room with rich wooden paneling that restricts the blending of Resmini’s flute with Joseph Dvorak’s clarinet, Rachel Segal’s violin, and Eric Coyne’s cello. The complex richness, rolling, and building of the exquisite “Synchronisms #5”—played by the Temple Percussion Ensemble (consisting of Austin Andrulis, Travis Goffredo, Joanne Kim, Salina Kuo, and Andrew Malonis, and directed by Phillip O’Banion)—conforms aurally to the long and lofty space of the church nave, with its beautiful high columns, pointed arches, wooden vault, leaded glass windows, and stonework tracery.

 

Among the other memorable segments of the concert are David Hughes’ solo of the 1970 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Synchronisms #6” for piano, in which the electronic sounds seem to flesh out his notes, and Segal’s bravura performance of “Synchronisms #9” for violin, which alternates between classically inspired bittersweet passages and aggressive avant-gardism.

Rachel Segal. Photo by Kevin Watkins.

All of the musicians (Oliver Cowley on oboe, Benjamin Mulholland on French horn, Dominic Panunto on bassoon, Jordan Dodson on guitar, and Zach Rowden on double bass, along with those already mentioned,) impress with their mastery of Davidovsky’s demanding work and its unmelodious style, irregular tempos, and precisely timed interactions with the electronic sounds.

The virtuoso performance of 10 Synchronisms is supplemented by a half-hour pre-show talk, beginning at 6:30, on the history of the church and the music, so get there early if you can!

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without an intermission.

10 Synchronisms has one more performance TONIGHT AT 7 PM at A Change of Harp, performing at Holy Apostles and the Mediator Episcopal Church – 260 South 51st Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, purchase them online.