Coping with crisisCatchfire Collective presented a select program of contemporary works by an A-team of twenty-first century composers including: inti figgis-vizueta, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Robert Honstein, Nico Muhly, and featuring the world premiere of Falling Up: The World Upside Down by Robin McLaughlin.

An adventurous new music ensemble, Catchfire’s motto is “reigniting the chamber music experience.” And by performing in the nooks and crannies around Greensboro and surrounding areas, they bring classical art music to new listeners. But with special circumstances, where gray-haired listeners won’t take all the seating, and with the help of the “world wide web,” everyone can have a listen.

The sextet members, all emerging artists, already hold an impressive number of experiences and awards. They are: McLaughlin, piano; Jillian Storey, flutes; Kyle Kostenko, clarinets; Lalia Mangione, violin; Peter Swanson, cello; and Isaac Pyatt, percussion. Their bios may be read here.

On this particular occasion, the ensemble was celebrating a new composition by their founding member, McLaughlin. Still in her 20s, she has been recognized by the ASCAP forum; and her saxophone quartet, On This Day won the American Composer’s Forum’s Showcase Award (performed 2017).

Their recent program, artistically stitched together with a thread of uplifting humor, was very accessible. Opening with Muhly’s “Doublespeak” was a bold introduction. A tribute to Philip Glass, it is a demanding, high energy composition that was premiered by eighth blackbird at the MusicNOW Festival (2012) in Cincinnati. Catchfire captured the essence of the piece with relentless pulse, contrasting textures and beautiful individual playing. I would love to hear them play it again; in a hall with a really great sound system.

The slow, building process of Bailey-Holland’s exquisite “The Clarity of Cold Air” (2013) provided a text-book contrast to the first composition. And fully warmed up, the ensemble paid close attention to the demanding quality of long-sustained tones, intonation and ensemble work. I loved their performance.

No one can keep up with the pace of contemporary composers and their works, but inti figgis-vizueta is someone you don’t want to miss. A New York-based composer, inti is an innovator in the style of John Cage. Open work has three sections – knotted object//Trellis in bloom//lightening ache. A generous artist, she allowed us an on-camera peak at the graphic score. While it may look simpler than standard notation, it takes a talented group of musicians to make sense of a non-traditional score and bring it to life. Catchfire’s performance was magical. You can listen to a recording here. Speaking of enchantment, the next piece was all I expected.

McLaughlin’s “Falling Up” (inspired by Shel Silverstein‘s charming poem by the same name) is well constructed; filled with an array of color; and is sure to delight the most discerning of listeners. Sharing her sense of whimsy, McLaughlin exploited the talents of each of her fellow musicians. In turn, her team seemed fully engaged. A small glitch; the poetry recitation deserves a bit of extra attention. Otherwise, this piece is ready for the road!

They wrapped up the performance with Honstein’s Conduit (2014). A fitting metaphor for our lives in front of the computer screen, especially during “The Year of Zoom,” Honstein’s work refers to the technological wizardry we take for granted. The abrupt ending took me by surprise. A sweet little musical joke, I’d say!

Falling Up: The World Upside Down was streamed live from The Flux Creative studio in downtown Greensboro.