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Highly Recommended: Local Premiere Of Professor Bad Trip

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 28, 2011 3:20PM

Photo courtesy of Dal Niente
Spectralism, electric cello, hallucinogenic drugs - there are a lot of juicy buzz words circling local contemporary music ensemble Dal Niente's Thursday night concert at the Mayne Stage. Headlining the program - and what has us all a-tizzy - is the first-ever Chicago performance of Italian contemporary composer Fausto Romitelli's Professor Bad Trip.

Let's work backwards. The titular "bad trip" does indeed refer to drugs. Romitelli loosely based his work on Henri Michaux's writings about his experiences on mescaline. Depending on your relationship with and penchant for using hallucinogenic drugs before concerts, the three-part work might become even more of a spectacle - or it could take a frightening turn, as the title warns. Dal Niente is breaking up the three-part, 40-plus-minute cycle with other music, but, still, pre-party at your own risk.

Professor Bad Trip takes the drug allusion a little deeper, however, with a sonic landscape that evokes the LSD-fueled, distortion- and feedback-heavy guitar solos of Jimi Hendrix. Indeed, there will be an electric guitar. And, yes, an electric cello, as well. Too often, combining pop genres with classical music sounds cheesy and forced, but Romitelli deftly avoided this. Muted trumpet and distorted guitar share the stage, their unique and very different sounds melding and forming a sound bath that ranges from hauntingly beautiful to an almost overwhelming violence.

Which brings us to spectralism, which Romitelli was influenced by when he began studying with spectral honcho GĂ©rard Grisey in Paris in 1991. We'll spare you the art-speak theorizing and technical details (which involve using a computer to analyze a note's spectrum): basically, spectralism is a school of modern classical music that places a great emphasis on timbre. Timbre is, essentially, the texture of sound (e.g. a piccolo is bright and airy; a string bass is deep and rich). Timbre is the paint Romitelli used on Professor Bad Trip, although sculpture is perhaps a better metaphor.

Rounding out tomorrow night's program will be arrangements of three madrigals from 1611 by the Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo, whom Dal Niente's press materials refer to as a "Renaissance-era lutenist and murderer," the latter appellation a reference to a series of crimes that, though horrific, were mercifully unrelated to the former. Two Chicago-based composers, Chris Fisher-Lochhead and Fred Gifford, have arranged the pieces for Dal Niente. The evening will begin with About for violin, viola, and guitar by Franco Donatoni, Romitelli's early composition teacher.

Thursday, September 29, at Mayne Stage, 1328 Morse, 7:30 p.m., $20 / $10 students