Schelle 'visions de l'amenities' at Butler's EDRH

Caught up, as one inevitably is, in Michael Schelle's gift for musical plays on words, I've borrowed that privilege and stretched it to label the concert he called "Schelle, Sasaki, and Friends" in a wretched pun on the French title of Olivier Messiaen's "Visions de l'Amen."

Butler University's longtime composer in residence avails himself of the amenities of his professional position, in the dictionary sense of "something that conduces to comfort, convenience, or enjoyment."

These human amenities are students, former students, and Jordan College of Arts colleagues, plus his wife Miho Sasaki, assembled for a riotous kaleidoscope of short pieces. They are presumably a far cry from those in the P.D.Q. Bach cantata "Iphigenia in Brooklyn," with its poignant recitative lines "and in a vision

Michael Schelle sizes things up.

Iphigenia saw her brother Orestes, who was being chased by the Amenities."

Collectively Schelle gave the players the portmanteau name of the Bang on a Roomful of Teeth All Stars, an ensemble that might evoke the dentist in "Little Shop of Horrors."  But new-music fans will readily divide the name into Bang on a Can and the vocal group Roomful of Teeth, mitigating fears of that figure as well as the one portrayed by W.C. Fields in "The Dentist."  

I was on familiar ground from the outset. No one could do windups launching a beanball pitch like Ludwig van Beethoven, the coda of whose "Appassionata" sonata (op. 57) is lovingly sent up in "Roll Over Beethoven," the movement from Funf Halluzinationen von Beethoven that opened the recital.  It was performed with predictable brilliance and panache by James Loughery, who has made a specialty of Schelle for over ten years, by my count. 

The Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall was nearly filled with enthusiasts, as well as no doubt newcomers to the Schelle experience. A ready contrast of Schelle's muse with Sasaki's could be savored through two pieces for solo flute: her serious, multifaceted "iki" (meaning "breath") with Catherine Hoelscher and his 28-year-old "Subwoofer," a work of a much more theatrical cast played by Amanda Ellery, the fun of which has a touch of spookiness surely inspired by Schelle's deep interest in movies. As I wrote about a performance of this piece by another flutist in 2016: "In the realm of peripatetic music for solo flute, 'Subwoofer' probably reigns supreme."

I must skip over a few of the titles for the sake of readers' patience, if I've not already lost it. I was impressed by the concert's two new pieces (from 2023): Schelle's "Cut and Run" clarinet and piano, ruthlessly played like a movie chase scene by Eric Salazar and Ross Dryer, and Miho Sasaki's haunting piece roaming among three languages (Latin, Japanese, and English), "et non et non." It received a commanding performance by pianist Dryer, baritone Oliver Worthington, clarinetist Trina Gross, violinist Tricia Bonner, and cellist Drew Sperry, conducted with precision and verve by Richard Auldon Clark.

Clark returned to lead the finale, an expansive octet of multiple charms, called "Heartland." I have heard this piece in concert before, and there is little to compare it with except itself.  I guess that's what "sui generis" means, a phrase that has nothing to do with calling hogs.

As Schelle noted in remarks from the stage, it's a wry assertion of what it was like for its New Jersey composer (raised, as was my father, in Bergen County) to get used to the Midwest. Schelle's musical embrace of his home here is confirmed by the rousing finale, during which he held cue cards so the audience could join in for this "Threnody for the Victims of Indiana." It amounted to an invigorating blend of hootenanny and pure hoot. "Visions de l'Amenities" indeed!


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