Music News & Reviews

Chamber Fest becomes giant with world premiere performance

The Chamber Music Festival of Lexington presented the world premiere of Matt Ulery’s “Become Giant” Friday night at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center.
The Chamber Music Festival of Lexington presented the world premiere of Matt Ulery’s “Become Giant” Friday night at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center.

As last night’s sold out second mainstage concert of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington got down to its main event at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, two musical factions faced each other, seemingly ready for friendly fire. Seated on one side was a string quartet that included the festival’s artistic director Nathan Cole. Standing on the other was the jazz trio Triptych that included composer-in-residence Matt Ulery and artist-in-residence Zach Brock. What resulted was a summit in the form of an extended work from Ulery titled “Become Giant.” And, well, it did.

The composition’s world premiere, the centerpiece event of the festival, was indeed huge in scope — an 11-part, 40-minute assimilation of jazz flexibility and, at times, groove, with the more composed (as in structure, not temperament) design of the strings. At times, the two ensembles stayed true to their respective stylistic bases. At others, they merged almost without notice. They also took turns working as the dominant voicing and, in effect, a backup unit.

The switch-hitter in this set-up was Brock, who gamely bled into the pizzicato chatter that became a theme of sorts for the quartet. But he also helmed longer solo passages, including one striking occasion when he briefly played unaccompanied, that luxuriated in improvisation. There were also snapshots of unexpected symmetry within the groups, specifically, when Ulery, on double bass, and cellist Priscilla Lee locked into an almost bluesy line where both players set bows aside and plucked strings in unison for a rubbery, percussive feel.

Even with Ulery and Brock playing such pivotal roles, the musician driving “Become Giant” was Triptych drummer Jon Deitemyer. As the only non-string player in a combined group of six, he deftly guided the tune though hints of samba-like sway, boppish cool and whispery punctuation to the strings’ sometimes minimalist turns.

In introducing the piece, Ulery told the audience he was reluctant to explain its 11 part construction (“In case anyone was going to count until it’s over”) or overall intent. “We just want to go ahead and play it.” And that they did, in brisk animated fashion, offering a jazz-classical blend restless enough to alter its course at a moment’s notice yet cohesive enough to stand as an engaging and singular music statement.

The first half of the program presented Brock in purely classical mode. He joined Lee, violinist Akiko Tarumoto and violist Burchard Tang for Hayden’s String Quartet No. 4 (“Sunrise”) which glowed in its more pastoral passages as well as through accelerated ensemble gallops.

But the most dramatic performance of the evening belonged to pianist Alessio Bax, who skippered the remarkable dynamics within Faure’s “Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Opus 45.” From the tossed sea sensibility immediately conjured for the opening Allegro movement to the similarly sudden conclusion to the third Adagio non troppo movement that triggered an audible audience gasp a few rows behind me, this was perhaps the most fully realized and openly emotive performance so far in the festival.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at

If you go

Chamber Music Festival of Lexington

Performing: Matt Ulery (composer-in-residence, bassist); Zach Brock (artist-in-residence, violin); Triptych (trio of Ulery, Brock and drummer Jon Deitemyer); violinists Nathan Cole and Akiko Tarumoto, violist Burchard Tang, cellist Priscilla Lee and pianist Alessio Bax (Festival core artists)

Where: Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St., and Al’s Bar, 601 N. Limestone

When: 2 p.m. Sept. 3

Tickets: $15 students, $35 adults

Call: 859-425- 2550


The program

Main stage concert III: Ravel’s “String Quartet in F Major”; Matt Ulery’s “Hubble,” and Shostakovich’s “Piano Quintet in G Minor.” (2 p.m., Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center).

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader