Listening to the beginning of Voyage, a 2011 recording from Pictures on Silence, feels as though you have just happened upon a room where Jacqueline Pollauf (harp) and Noah Getz (saxophone) have already been playing. For how long? Unknown. But, you happily find an open chair and settle in for the rest of the seven works on the recording. Pictures on Silence expands the repertoire for their unusual instrumentation by commissioning new works. In fact, they have premiered over 15 new works for harp and saxophone in the last couple of years. This, their début CD, is a well-programmed introduction to their technical mastery as well as their interpretive depth.
Beyond contributing to the repertoire for harp and saxophone, their dedication to commissioning pieces allows Pollauf and Getz to bring new music to a wider audience and offers the duo a chance to work with composers. Voyage features compositions by Graham Lynch, Andrew Earle Simpson, David Smooke, Christopher William Pierce, Kathleen Bader, Charles Halka, and Astor Piazzolla. Much of the music is atmospheric with an inclination toward melody and lyrical playing. The voyage in question is most likely a nighttime sail in unfamiliar but peaceful water.
Both Pollauf and Getz play with nuanced style and impressive technique all in service of the music. They are exceptional for their ability to perform the extended techniques inherent in new music without letting them take over the sound as a whole. Pollauf thunders, scrapes, and buzzes in Simpson’s Summer-Night Songs – evocative of “a coming rainstorm and its sudden arrival.” One also hears a slight homage to Crumb’s musical language in Smooke’s Empty Every Night in the pitch-bends and taps from Pollauf. Smooke writes that “the music kept tending toward the characteristics of a nocturne: a simple melody that is gradually ornamented, mainly in triple meter and with a subsumed passion.” Like Empty Every Night, Bader’s Webs Unmade also gradually ornaments the basic musical ideas. She begins building gesture upon gesture throughout the piece. Bader suggests that she wanted to compose the piece in a way that the musical structure was like the making of a spider web. When both Pollauf and Getz are climbing into their upper tessitura the sound is enthralling and brings to mind a spider working across a dewy web.
Not only does the duo shine while sailing through lyrical lines; but, they both feverishly attack challenging rhythmic passages. The Piazzolla Tango Etude no. 6 is actually indicated avec anxiété and Getz works that notion throughout the dance. That same dance groove is revealed at the end of Halka’s Rhapsody. In Rhapsody as well as many of the pieces on the album, Pollauf provides a percussive undulation to Getz’s soaring melodies.
Pictures on Silence is an exemplary new music group. Pollauf and Getz’s skills alone are enough to secure their place in the field. However, they are multiple parts of the new music cycle: impressive musicians, faithful commissioners, and good business minds. I look forward to discovering the work of more composers through their music for Pictures on Silence.If you would like to purchase a copy of Voyage, you can do so through the Pictures on Silence website.