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NOW Ensemble/Sean Friar - Before and After (New Amsterdam)

15 December 2021

Proving that chamber music isn’t just about revisiting the catalogs of centuries-old composers (not that there’s anything wrong with that in the right hands), contemporary group NOW Ensemble collaborates with modern composer Sean Friar for Before and After. Essentially a meditation on the evolution of civilization, this set of tunes melds traditional European classical forms with noisier, dissonant sounds suggesting the whiplash energy of twenty-first century urban life. As such, the Ensemble traffics in less traditional classical instrumentation, wielding flute, clarinet, double bass, piano and electric guitar as its weapons. The wind instruments usually carry the melody, while piano adds fills and bass and guitar distortion give the backgrounds weight and color. The group waxes ethereal (“Solo”) and discordant (“Spread”), as the mood requires, and sometimes both in the same tune, even proffering hooks of a sort in “Chant” and “Rally.” The song cycle climaxes with “Done Deal,” a longform piece that incorporates every direction in which Friar’s music moves, a track that beguiles, bewilders and beautifies – just like the modern life it’s meant to evoke. Humanity has long maintained its accomplishments and laid out its failures on the bones of people and deeds gone before; Friar and the NOW Ensemble make that centuries-long movement musically manifest on Before and After.