ArtsATL > Music > Review: Bent Frequency, accordionist Zöllner pay tribute to the new music of Mexico

Review: Bent Frequency, accordionist Zöllner pay tribute to the new music of Mexico

Guitarist Dieter Hennings was a featured musician (Photos by Dot Paul)
Guitarist Dieter Hennings was a featured musician (Photos by Dot Paul)
Guitarist Dieter Hennings was a featured musician. (Concert photos by Dot Paul)

On Saturday night, new music ensemble Bent Frequency performed a concert at Kopleff Recital Hall with three featured guests: composer-conductor Juan Trigos, guitarist Dieter Hennings and accordionist Eva Zöllner. The concert was the final event in the weeklong Festival of New Music from Mexico at Georgia State University.

Three works by Trigos formed the majority of the program, led by Hennings performing the composer’s five-movement “Partita” for solo guitar. Hennings, associate professor of music at the University of Kentucky, plays a 2006 Brian Dunn classical guitar. It was one of Dunn’s first “double top” instruments, with both tops made of spruce. It was presented as a gift to Hennings by the Tucson-based luthier.

Hennings returned to the stage later to perform “Quartetto de Do” with Bent Frequency core performers Stuart Gerber (bongos), Ken Long (clarinet) and Jan Baker (saxophones) for a spiky sequence of seven dances for that unusual combination of instruments. He was also soloist for the final work, Trigos’ “Ricercare VI” (aka Guitar Concerto No. 1).

Although Hennings’ guitar was amplified in the concerto, the balance was tricky and the ensemble, especially the three percussionists, sometimes overwhelmed the solo in both volume and texture. Nevertheless, the piece is a welcome and fresh — if somewhat edgy — addition to the guitar concerto repertoire.

Hennings with Bent Frequency members Stuart Gerber (bongos), Kenneth Long (clariunet) and Jan Baker (saxophones) perform "Quartetto" by Juan Trigos.
Hennings and Bent Frequency members Stuart Gerber (bongos), Kenneth Long (clarinet) and Jan Baker (saxophones) perform “Quartetto” by Juan Trigos.

Immediately prior to that work, Trigos, who is principal conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico, led a somewhat expanded Bent Frequency in “El canto de los cronopios” by 30-year-old Juan de Dios Magdaleno, a seven-minute work for 13 instrumentalists and 10 mechanical metronomes.

The only work featuring the Hamburg-based Zöllner came early in the evening’s lineup: “Symphoinia” for solo accordion by Georgina Derbez. Derbez is a native of Mexico City where she is part of the composition faculty at the Superior School of Music of the National Center for the Arts.

Zöllner plays a bayan, a chromatic button accordion developed in Russia during the early 20th century. It is substantively different from the more familiar accordions. The compact layout of the right-hand manual buttons on her Italian-made Pigini bayan allows the instrument a much wider range and a greater technical agility. 

Zöllner is a performer in whom you intuitively, immediately sense heightened musicality upon first hearing. Educated as a “classical” accordionist at the Academy of Music in Cologne, Germany, and the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, Denmark, Zöllner is devoted to contemporary music. That she played only the one piece left the listener wanting to hear more.

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Zöllner also performed at Eyedrum. (Photo courtesy Eva Zöllner)

The good news was Saturday’s program booklet included an insert that announced a concert the following night at Eyedrum, featuring Zöllner performing contemporary solo accordion works, preceded by a set of music and video by native Atlanta composer Adam Scott Neal. Four of Neal’s short works were straight-up video pieces, but two involved a live performer. 

Of the latter, the five-minute “cords” for electric guitar and live processing is exemplary of Neal’s recent work in that manner. Guitarist Darren Nelsen played a Telecaster replica, made with custom Warmoth parts, that he and and his guitar technician built in 2008. It has a quilted maple top with Dragon Burst finish and DiMarzio Area T pickups.

Nelsen used no effect pedals in playing the spare, long-toned guitar parts, which relied upon subtlety and nuance more than pyrotechnics. Instead, the guitarist used a simple software patch that triggers sound files and changes digital delay times. More consonant harmonies produced longer delay times, more dissonant sounds produced shorter ones.

Saxophonist Brandyn Taylor ably performed Neal’s “Brother,” in which his soprano sax was paired with a prerecorded audio derived from a one-note sample of a baritone saxophone. 

Zöllner’s half of the program featured five intriguing contemporary works by Northern European composers, which exploited the range of her bayan’s sonic capabilities. Two included fixed audio media. Likewise in two works Zöllner simultaneously played a harmonica.

Despite major storm warnings for the upper East Coast, Zöllner is scheduled to perform at both the Red Room in Baltimore and Spectrum in New York City this week. She will also present a pair of composer workshops in the Big Apple before returning to Germany for a concert in Marburg.

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