At MCA, unusual 'Whisper(s)' grows to 100 musicians

Chicago Tribune

On Sunday afternoon the Museum of Contemporary Art ended its winter-spring performance season with "Whisper(s)," a highly unusual concert of mostly percussion works played by Matthew Duvall and a staggering number of guests.

In most of the nine pieces Duvall, a virtuoso percussionist and co-founder of the arts organization Eighth Blackbird, performed alone. But as the elaborate program unfolded — three parts plus a prologue and a scheduled but unrealized intermission — forces grew into a duo, quintet and, finally, percussion orchestra of 100 players.

Two world premieres were among the offerings, which Duvall strung together with only brief pauses, forming at once a complement to the museum's Merce Cunningham exhibition and a stand-alone collage with stage direction (by Matthew Ozawa and Jodi Gage) and lighting design (Erik S. Barry) of its own.

Links to Cunningham came from the prologue that had Duvall at a piano playing some of Erik Satie's "Vexations" while dropping to the floor sheets of music that suggested he was on the way to the composer's specified 840 repetitions. Satie was, of course, a major influence on Cunningham's partner, John Cage, whose any-sound-can-be-music aesthetic was most delicately explored in "Inlets," for five players (Duvall plus Third Coast Percussion) submerging seashells in bowls of water. The circle of composers around Cage provided Morton Feldman's masterly "The King of Denmark," played by Duvall with great coloristic sensitivity at the requisite threshold of audibility.

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