Auckland has waited too long to hear California-based, expatriate violinist Mark Menzies. It finally happened on Sunday, thanks to composer Samuel Holloway and first-class local musicians, drawing a good, enthusiastic audience.
The evening opened playfully. Holloway's Management Decision-Making in Chinese Enterprises mixed the corporate and the surreal in its title. After a wacky launch (Holloway jumping up and down, Menzies blowing the dust off his instrument), a 10-minute improv was most effective when analogue synthesiser and violin teased that thin dividing line between electronic and acoustic.
Holloway's later solo Dualities showcased Menzies' masterly tonal gradation, slipping effortlessly from the blistering to murmuring.
James Gardner's 18-minute solo Queer Studies was a mite long, even if ears were wooed by the sighing strains of the first and the third's bristling energy.
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Flautist Luca Manghi and clarinetist Andrew Uren joined Menzies in Bryn Harrison's Five Miniatures. With the material reshuffled and re-presented, in ever decreasing tempi, this was like a musical Rashomon; the players floated a diaphanous web, occasionally alerting us to individual threads in the mix.
The cool, insistent tonality of Laurence Crane's Estonia seemed more Satie than Arvo Part, yet, despite Gardner's able conducting, it needed tighter ensemble.
The title of Menzies' own composition was long and mysterious - like Georgie (auckland's) gardens: / uncaged music / with piwakawaka / and swongering butterfly. So too was the music, which suffered from its three-in-one origins and some distractingly homespun kitchen gamelan percussion on the side.
Menzies himself was a miracle, vying with the breathy basso of Manghi's bass flute, sweeping Uren's clarinet into a frenzied dance or smiling paternally, as Katherine Hebley's deliberated cello underscored the final pages.
Rachael Morgan's Whisperings set up its own realm of airy stillness through the lapping throb of Manghi's alto flute and Hebley's trilling cello. Alas, its frail beauty proved no match for the slow crackle of a cough lolly wrapper.
Who: Mark Menzies
Where: Musgrove Studio, Maidment.