My last visit to Columbia's Miller Theatre for this season's Composer Portraits treated me to Francesca Verunelli's work on April 21, 2016. Once again, I got to experience ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) perform modern works, conducted by David Fulmer.
Born in 1979, the Paris-based Italian composer studied composition at the Florence conservatory, in Rome with Azio Corghi, and at IRCAM. Miller presented the U.S. premieres of her pieces Cinemaolio (2014) and Déshabillage impossible (2015), as well as a performance of The Famous Box Trick (2015) and the world premiere of her Five Songs (Kafka's Sirens) (2016). Her music is largely inspired by film: Déshabillage impossible and The Famous Box Trick are both based on short films made between 1898 and 1900 by Georges Méliès, a stage magician turned filmmaker, who used photo-cinematographic techniques to create scenic illusion.
In describing the 20-minute Déshabillage (scored for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, viola, and cello), Verunelli wrote that its purpose is "to explore the artifice in the composition of musical time." Her take on music seeks to reify the relationship between mechanical time and biological time, exploiting as it does, our relationship to technology and technologically-produced art.
The Famous Box Trick was written for flutist, Claire Chase, one of the founding members of ICE and a 2012 MacArthur Fellow. It combined bass flute with electronics and sounded like alien echos from outer-space. As I watched Chase groove into the work, I couldn't help but note that her natural earthiness reminded me of the people I knew when I lived in California and visited The Playa of Burning Man and made music in remote areas of West Coast forests, beaches, deserts, and canyons. Her genuine presence evoked an effortless bliss that unfortunately for us hurried New Yorkers, is anything but fake. Watching people like Chase "bliss out" on her music makes you wonder how it's possible that such seemingly carefree, fairy-like virtuosos exist. I was pleased to read that she is indeed a Californian, having grown up in Leucadia -- known for its southern Cali beach culture.
Verunelli's music seeks to create new sound environments by taking classical composition and combining its teachings with contemporary electronics. Its result is a modern opus replete with extended techniques like aeolian sounds, key clicks, flutter tongue, growling and dashes of tonality that sprinkle the air with familiar glints of sound. She is well established in Europe and with the Miller concert, has now been introduced to the U.S. public. Check her out.