by Jennifer Bryce

The core of the Inventi Ensemble is a pair of musicians – a flautist and an oboist who, according to Ben Opie, the oboist, have so much music in them that they had to form an ensemble to provide opportunities to play it. They like to play all kinds of music, but on this occasion it was what you might call contemporary classical – the term ‘classical’ seems inappropriate these days, but most people know what you mean; not pop, not jazz, not fusion . . . For this concert the music was mainly mid-20th Century, the most recent having been composed in 1987.

Ben and flautist Melissa Doeke were joined by harp (Marshall McGuire) and percussion players Thea Rossen and Peter Neville. The first piece was Eucalypts No. 2 by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, who died in 1996. It was a trio for flute, oboe and harp. For me, the music didn’t particularly evoke eucalypts; it exploited a range of sounds from the wind instruments and sometimes the harp was used in a percussive way, reminiscent, maybe, of dry leaves. The least interesting piece, I thought was Morton Feldman’s Instruments III, which seemed to be an exercise experimenting with what a flute, oboe (and cor anglais) and set of percussion can do. The wind instruments mainly played repetitive long notes, going in and out of tune – assisted, in the case of the oboe and cor, by use of a mute. Not terribly interesting for the listener, although a challenge to play. Tan Dun’s In Distance, according to the composer is ‘a kind of questioning of myself’. It conveys geographical distance – written when the Chinese composer first lived in New York. There is also distance between instruments – a distance in pitch, timbre, etc – the piccolo paired with bass drum, and cultural differences; the piccolo, a western instrument, is treated at times like a bamboo flute, the harp like a koto, the bass drum like Indian drums. The composer says he also explored conflict between atonal writing and folk music.

The final piece, Dmaathen, by Xenakis, was for me the most exciting. Scored for oboe and percussion it required the fine oboe playing of Ben Opie to manage a range of multiphonic sounds – changing quickly from one to another and sometimes having to be in tune with the percussion –  fabulous, vital percussion playing from Thea Rossen.

At the end of the concert I reflected on how, mid-20th century, much of the writing seemed to be experimenting with sounds; exploiting the range of effects that could be produced by conventional western instruments. Musical composition today seems to have moved beyond that – it is inspired by present-day issues and the ‘new’ effects are used perhaps more imaginatively and convincingly.