Wednesday night’s early show at the Empty Bottle (7pm, $15) brings an eclectic set of 20th century classical to the venerated rock venue, courtesy of the (Un)familiar Music Series, in just its second installment. It kicked off in August with a performance by the Spektral Quartet, which was playing its third annual show at the Bottle; Spektral violist and series coordinator Doyle Armbrust was invited by Bottle honcho Bruce Finkleman to curate a showcase in the vein of Spektral’s shows. The first guest artists are the semi-Chicago-based woodwind quartet The City of Tomorrow (Armbrust and CoT oboist Andrew Nogal are both members of Ensemble Dal Niente). “For those of us who are constantly hungry for new sounds, we’ll go anywhere to hear it,” Armbrust told me.
Armbrust used to live near the Empty Bottle, and found himself going to the venue out of habit rather than for particular show. “The genres are so eclectic there you’re not locking yourself into any genre. It has a really good vibe, a really open-minded crowd. The stage is very low, and there’s literally no divide between the artist and the audience. You feel very connected to the artist.” It makes it a good setting for Armbrust’s series: “It’s about making things as comfortable as possible for the audience. The pretense gets sucked away. It’s not about trying to be edgy.”
The program kicks off with Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Memoria, which closes with a tribute to Luciano Berio, whose Ricorrenze is the second piece (and itself a birthday present written for Pierre Boulez); the first is a sonically rich, symphonic piece that tests the limits of a wind quintet, “filling out the sound of an entire orchestra,” says Nogal, while Berio’s work is a sparse piece with “startling motives and warped melodies.”
The next piece on the bill is David Lang’s 2003 work Breathless, a minimalist piece consisting of small figures and very few pitches; “it’s something precious like a gem, that you can inspect from all angles; it develops and radiates its harmonies,” Nogal says.
The program concludes with David Maslanka’s 1999 Quintet for Winds No. 3, which twists Bach’s pristine chorales into busy sounds that Nogal compares to “modern ears listening back to Bach. Now we have TV and movies and Twitter, and the world is more complex now.”
Here’s The City of Tomorrow playing Franco Donatoni’s Blow:
Photograph: Tarina Westlund