Chamber Music?

Uli Rennert
Project S

Working alongside a small unit of regular collaborators, on Project S Uli Rennert applies his traditional compositional skill to a broad range of styles and instrumentation. The work is framed by the history of chamber music and small ensemble composition. Yet, Peter Kunsek’s exquisite clarinet and Peter Herbert’s bass are disrupted by Rennert’s restless instrumental leaps from synthesizer to live electronics, or lap steel guitar. The final product is a sharp pan-modernism where all forms and styles are engaged and all techniques given equal weighting. Found sound drones combine with lyrical viola harmonies and spoken word, which gives way to dense and jarring synthesizer pulses. Avant-garde tonalities recalling Igor Stravinsky and Bernard Hermann are interspersed with atonal electronic sections. Everything from counterpoint to digital sampling is available to access and deftly incorporated by an ensemble with an extensive and close history together.

The pieces are agile and difficult to conceptualise. It eludes general description and sometimes progressed in ways I found awkward or abrupt. But it seems a fundamental misunderstanding to isolate these sections. When everything is emphasised and brought to the surface there will surely be forms which individually frustrate, but are necessary inclusions in the project. This is modern classical music divorced from previous social, societal and historical rhetoric and so with that separation there may be elements which seem out of place. Criticising these sections seems a petty misconception of the bold aims of the music.

The interesting balance between solo sections and ensemble playing often seems more reminiscent of a jazz quartet then a chamber ensemble. Clusters of sound thin out and separate into sudden improvisation. Threads and themes within the music spin and coalesce before fading. Despite Rennert’s lead each member brings something distinct. Previous entries in Rennert’s Project series have used jazz standards as a starting point for composition and even as Rennert deviates from such techniques the model for performance remains.

An accusation often leveled at post-modernism within music is that with access to all forms, without guiding principles or history, the emphasis of everything is the emphasis of nothing; the equality of formal attributes leads to a flattening of all those constituents. Yet on Project S the juggling of these diverse elements is an indication of the skill and imagination of all involved and Rennert’s role as composer and collaborative node. The work is a fascinating response to the dilemma of what orchestrated chamber music is and what it can offer for this generation of musicians.


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