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Past, Present and Future, All at Once

Published: 2012-01-15
Fieldwork A similar negotiation can come into play in the arts programming of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York, which seeks to fashion or illuminate connections between old and new styles, and between Austrian art and the work of other communities.

Both notions figure into the Emancipation of Re:sonance, a concert series presented in conjunction with the Manhattan New Music Project in which contemporary artists are asked to provide fresh perspectives on works by canonical Austrian composers.

The title of the series alludes to Schoenberg's precept; “re:sonance," so punctuated, implies both history and sound. The notion seemed clear enough as applied to last week's opening concert, in which New Yorkers put quirky spins on Mozart's oeuvre.

But in the second offering of the series, presented at the forum on Tuesday evening, you could wonder just how well the program's title, “In the Presence of Schoenberg," suited a performance by the avant-garde jazz trio Fieldwork. Not a lick of Schoenberg's canon was performed, at least not overtly. No Adorno references or jokes about “12-tone blues" applied.

Instead, Fieldwork busied itself with a taut, vigorous sequence of compositions by its members: the pianist Vijay Iyer, the saxophonist Steve Lehman and the percussionist Tyshawn Sorey. In a little more than an hour seven pieces surged and bustled by in a near-seamless flow.

Mr. Lehman, in a program note, gamely tried to connect the dots. He linked the expressive spirit of Fieldwork's music to Schoenberg's “Erwartung" and “Pierrot Lunaire," and its chromatic style and repetitive figurations to the String Quartet No. 3 and Three Piano Pieces (Op. 11). Fair enough, but where Fieldwork conjured the spirit of Schoenberg most was in the tension and power it generated by balancing historical precedent with forward-looking impulse.

The trio sounds like no other, its lack of a bass instrument lending an airiness to even its most convoluted moments. Mr. Iyer's left-hand figures and patterns provide a center of gravity; his right-hand lines and flurries collude or clash with Mr. Lehman's tart saxophone, which can ooze and smear into microtonal crevices. Mr. Sorey is omnipresent: lithe, thunderous and obliquely funky by turns.


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