Fort Worth — The Synapse Ensemble, a trio of young musicians performing under the auspices of the Fort Worth Music Fund, presented a program of music of the late 20th and 21st centuries on Sunday afternoon. The venue was an art gallery hosting an exhibit of works about the Trayvon Martin shooting. The audience was limited to about 40 listeners, perched upon folding chairs in the small space.
Performing classical music in unconventional smaller venues is a great way to court audiences who might not otherwise attend classical concerts. And the repertoire the Synapse Ensemble chose to explore was equally unconventional—three of the four composers on the program are living, while the fourth, Leonard Bernstein, died less than a quarter century ago.
The group chose one movement from Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio to begin the program. This movement, subtitled “Pale Yellow,” like other of Higdon’s music, is distinctly contemporary in its tonality while remaining accessible for listeners. The musicians did a creditable job on this piece, although the lack of a real piano—keyboardist Zachariah Stoughton used an electronic keyboard instead—was a distinct disadvantage. The result in this small space was inevitably that cellist Jenny Kwak overpowered both Stoughton and violinist Rachel Orth, whose sound was somewhat brittle, likely due to the acoustics of the gallery.
The most successful work on the program was Philip Glass’s “Closing,” originally composed for solo piano and arranged for trio by Fort Worth Music Fund President Edward Brown. The ensemble handled the compelling, repetitive Glassian rhythms effectively, although in the more lyrical sections the cello again overpowered. More sparing use of vibrato might have worked to good effect here, also. The players moved attaca into the most truly innovative experiment on the program—an arrangement of “Psychonaut Love Song” by the local band Bomb Atomic, whose members were in attendance. Edward Brown arranged this song, and Sunday was its premiere. For such an arrangement to work well, the musicians have to become punk rockers for the moment. Stage presence is crucial to pull this kind of thing off. These musicians definitely have the technique, but need to look like they’re having fun, too.
Last on the program was by far the oldest piece on the program, Leonard Bernstein’s 1937 Piano Trio. For the most part, the trio met the considerable technical demands of this piece successfully.
The Fort Worth Music Fund and their “in house” chamber ensemble the Synapse Ensemble brings us lesser-heard contemporary chamber works in unconventional venues. With more secure performances of some of the works, this is a venture that has the potential to add considerably to the musical culture of the Metroplex.