"It is snow! It is snow!"
So indicates Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen in the score of his 2006-08 work "Schnee" (which of course means "snow" in his native tongue).
And for about an hour, the piece blanketed the small Simons Center Recital Hall with a varied, exacting soundscape - icy cold, slippery, sometimes rigid, sometimes flurrying, sometimes a soft cushion.
The work for a chamber ensemble of two pianos, percussion a trio of woodwinds and a trio of strings is divided into 10 canons and three short "intermezzi" during which the players are instructed by Abrahamsen to tune down or up their instruments. The tuning is part of the show.
I arrived at the 5 p.m. recital tired and damp from the day's rain, afraid the music might lull me to sleep.
It certainly lulled me, but I did not sleep. I did, however, lose track of time.
Conductor and Music in Time series organizer John Kennedy informed the audience that Abrahamsen meant for "Schnee" to distort time and space, but I didn't believe him. I took his opening remarks as the overly optimistic ravings of a modern music fanatic.
Then what happened was the piece ended and I checked the clock and realized that, sure enough, the temporal nature of music had, as Kennedy said it would, stretched the fabric of the space-time continuum, and I wondered if this odd occurrence had induced a ripple effect through the cosmos.
My, what a little snow can do!
Here's a little of what transpired (I think) during that surreal interlude: Abrahamsen manipulated the canon form, asking one group of musicians to play some sounds (string scratchings, for instance, or high-pitched loops and bends), often in an exceedingly delicate manner, and then the other group would play some sounds, employing similar effects though offering a different timbre and texture.
Themes, such as they could be discerned, were replicated and repeated. The pianists, Lydia Brown and Conor Hanick, tapped and poked at the keys, sometimes just two at a time to sound a minor second, often slightly, sometimes with a flourish. Percussionist Brian Maloney played an unorthodox instrument - sheets of paper - to create a whispering effect.
The rest of the musicians - Amulet Strange on flute, Lauren Williams on oboe and English horn, Gleb Kanasevich on clarinets, Hye Jin Chang on violin, Kim Mai Nguyen on viola and Kye-young Kwon on cello - played with delicacy and precision. They were all strikingly comfortable in this strange and serene domain.
Kennedy led them with no need for grand gestures. In fact, he carefully obeyed Abrahamsen's instructions to maintain a large, slow beat and let the musicians fill in the stretched space with their discrete contributions.
And so the piece proceeded, creating a prickly sensation like the cold, and leaving its footsteps in the freshly fallen snow. It tricked the memory. It created a warped world. It seemed untroubled by the coughs in the audience or the sound of the air conditioning starting up; it merely absorbed it all, like snow does.
Late in the piece, Abrahamsen did something or another that was canonlike, but what was most noticeable was the more lively textures and musical bustle, as if "Schnee" now was describing a snowy day in a seaside Danish village - townsfolk slipping on the ice on their way to the fish market; light bells suggesting the arrival of a delivery; the dialogue between winds and strings implying the chatter of chilled residents and the vapors of warm breath disappearing into the gray winter air.
An old memory came to mind. It was the Blizzard of 1996. I was living in Brooklyn, very near the elevated Gowanus Expressway. The snow was coming down fast and thick. It was very beautiful. As it accumulated in the streets and trees, on the rooftops and automobiles, it began to change the sounds of a slowing city.
The snow, still a glistening white, and the accompanying humid air dampened the noise, muffled the moving traffic, altered the sound of one's voice and breath. Everything became hushed, immediate, close at hand. It was no longer feasible to travel any distance; all one could do was plod through the piles of snow. A few intrepid New Yorkers donned skis to get around. Cars no longer traveled the neighborhood streets.
The winter was upon us, in our ears. It was a miraculous moment when time stretched and space changed, when nature, in partnership with the great cityscape, provided all the music one could possibly want to hear.
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at www.facebook/aparkerwriter.
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