January 26th, 2019
An hour of music performed by two percussionists is not something that happens every evening, so when Matthew Keown and Jeff Stern of the Icarus Quartet chose to present such a show, they prepared some of the most celebrated pieces of their repertoire. When performing as a duo, Keown and Stern are appropriately named the Icarus Duo, and the program they performed on Saturday, January 26th 2019 featured works by David Lang, Steve Reich, Georges Aperghis, and Frederic Rzewski, among others.
The concert began with an energetic drum duo by Robert Marino titled, Eight on 3 and Nine on 2. The piece had moments reminiscent of a drum line, Reggaeton dance music, and even a section that harkened a Billy Cobham solo. This piece gave way to Keown demonstrating acute concentration and control while performing the David Lang composition, The Anvil Chorus. Typical of Lang’s music, this piece featured layers of rhythms that changed slightly so as to create interjecting voices within the otherwise repetitive landscape. The duo then performed Steve Reich’s Nagoya Marimbas with technical precision before leading into my favorite piece of the evening, Seeds by Leonardo Gorosito and Rafael Alberto. This composition required multiple shakers that formed a dynamic, sonic atmosphere. While the variety of sounds created through the use of different shakers pleased my ears, the coordination demonstrated by Keown and Stern produced an enjoyable visual display not unlike a dance. Following this duo were three solos featuring Stern on marimba playing the ever popular Koln Concert IIC transcription by Keith Jarrett, Keown performing Le Corps Á Corps by Georges Aperghis, and Stern presenting Frederic Rzewski’s To the Earth. The program concluded with a marimba duo by Fredrik Andersson titled, The Lonelyness of Santa Claus. This final piece filled the room with the resonating low register of a marimba being struck with thickly-wrapped mallets. The effect was a quiet and contemplative end to a musically diverse concert.
The quiet ending was significant because the Icarus Duo explained from the onset that their intention was to create a large scale diminuendo as the program proceeded from start to finish, without interruption. Keown and Stern titled this program, “Dovetail,” eluding to the fact that each piece would transition into the next one seamlessly. To achieve this motion, the two percussionists at times extended or recomposed the ends of some pieces to allow for a more smooth transition. Although the duo encouraged the audience to respond without restrictions, the applause between pieces did not help the transitions seem natural, but I must admit, such virtuosic performances moved me to express audible gratitude and it would be difficult to expect any other result. At this point, I should mention that the audience was definitely engaged and excited to be witnessing such an event. This was in part due to the masterful demonstration of musicianship but also due to the beautiful art studio that served as the venue. Grant Anderson should be thanked for opening up his studio, and Samatha Buker should be recognized for her wise choice in selecting the venue. This concert was part of the Thrive Music Live series which is curated by Buker and continues to present creative musicians in unique venues throughout the city.
So did the program truly create a large scale diminuendo? I think it would be hard to suggest Keown’s interpretation of Le Corp Á Corp was softer than the Keith Jarrett composition that preceded it, nor did I experience Seeds as a quieter performance than the Reich, but the instrumentation and personnel decisions no doubt dictated the flow of the concert, and the pieces certainly did dovetail effectively. One thing is for sure, Keown and Stern presented a fantastic program that demonstrated both the virtuosity and creativity of the Icarus Duo, while leaving the audience satisfied and wishing for more.
Jeremy Lyons is a guitarist, composer, and writer living in Baltimore City. He is an artistic director of the contemporary music ensemble, Pique Collective, a performing member of the music cooperative, Mind on Fire, and he collaborates with artists of all kinds working in a variety of mediums. If you want to get in touch with him or suggest an event for him to experience, use his contact page.