If the only line on Bryce Dessner’s resume was “Guitarist – The National,” that’d be impressive enough. But throw in festival curator (MusicNow, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry), producer (Dark Was the Night), contemporary classical composer, philanthropist, guitarist/ukuleleist for the instrumental group Clogs, a Master of Music degree from Yale, plus the fact that he co-founded a record label (Brassland), and you’ve got a bona fide Renaissance Man.
Having composed for the Los Angeles and New York philharmonics, Sidney Opera House, and Kronos Quartet, Dessner partnered with NYC-based ensemble Sō Percussion for an album-length composition, Music for Wood and Strings. To appease our generation’s more distractible contingent, the piece will be available as a collection of shorter, more digestible tracks on Spotify, but the true pleasure of Dessner’s creation can only be experienced through a continuous, 35-minute listen. That’s how it was composed and performed, and it’s how you ought to to hear it, even if it can’t possibly match the experience of seeing it in person. So, silence your phone, quit multitasking for half an hour, and give this unique and evocative offering your undivided attention.
Commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Dessner’s piece segues deftly from harmonious to jarring; melodic to cacophonous; blithe to foreboding. Leaning heavily on custom-built “Chordsticks” that sound like a cross between an electric keyboard and a hammer dulcimer, Sō Percussion builds gradually only to cut out suddenly. The most impressive feature of Music for Wood and Strings is the diverse array of emotional impulses it cohesively presents. The piece feels unified and whole, like a rug woven together from a million particolored strands of yarn. Don’t let the lack of lyrics and guitars deter you; it’s a gorgeous composition and well worth a listen.