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REVIEW: ISO meets NewAm for first full collaboration

March 14, 2013

It seems like some kind of odd musical backroom bargaining: “Okay, we'll cover ABBA songs,” one can image ISO musicians saying, “if we can also do an experimental contemporary song cycle.”

Then again, perhaps the bargain went the other way: “Okay, we'll do an experimental contemporary song cycle if we can also cover ABBA songs.”

Whatever the case, the ISO has certainly demonstrates what a difference a week can make when it comes to its programming.

Feel free to chime in below or on my You-review-it Monday blog with your thoughts on the ABBA celebration March 15-16. I was more interested in catching the March 9 program, the first full evening showcasing the fruits of the ISO’s partnership with New Amsterdam Presents. The record label/artist management service/music presenter focuses on difficult-to-classify, genre-straddling music and the concert celebrated two such composers, Son Lux (aka IU grad Ryan Lott) and NewAm co-director Sarah Kirkland Snider.

The former, playing keyboards and singing with occasional strain that played hopscotch with the line between sincerity and affect, seemed genuinely thrilled to hear his music biggie-sized for orchestra. Those orchestrations often gave sweep to his relatively simple, deliberately repetitions songs while adding only a few sonic drifts into R2D2 territory.

A highlight: "Flowers" (Son Lux is prone to high-school-literary-magazine titles) offered the kind of tune Tom Waits used to croak in his "Nighthawks at the Diner" period. And I mean that as a high complement.

Another” “Stay” ("Will you love me/like he loved me/or will you stay"), a solo piece wisely chosen to end the set offered clear incentive to give a listen to his recordings.

Post-intermission brought Snider's song cycle "Penelope," based on "The Odyssey," although any narrative thread eluded me.

Sung by Shara Worden (aka My Brightest Diamond) and supported predominantly by strings (including a refreshing guitar in "Let a Wind Come Blow It All Away"), it begged for visual reference. Where is a slide show or video when you really want one? Still, the combination of a powerful performance and well-balanced, thoughtful orchestrations boded well for future ISO/NewAm collaborations.

The expected younger-than-usual, smaller-than-usual crowd was enthusiastic and supportive, with balcony dwellers encouraged by Son Lux to come down and join the rest while he stalled a bit. A nice gesture for a program seemingly designed to bring adventurous listeners closer to contemporary music.

Your thoughts?

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