Performing for a house completely sold-out, Low and Lower surprised and delighted an intergenerational audience at the Kennedy-McIlwee Theatre on the campus of N.C. State University as part of the Arts Now! Series. Low and Lower, the trade name for string duo Brooks Whitehouse (cello) and Paul Sharpe (bass), was deliciously funny. Disguised as serious entertainment, the program also included the world premiere of John Allemeier’s “Undercurrents” for cello and double bass.

Doctor Rodney Waschka commenced the program with a short music history lesson and introduced the guest artists, who in turn, quizzed the audience. Without the aid of smart phones, this felt more like “drop the needle.”  

Anyone who remembers that first music recital will be in touch with the racing heartbeat and stomach butterflies associated with performance anxiety. Paul Sharpe took it to a new high as he played Tom Johnson’s wonderful “Failing: a very difficult piece for solo string bass.” A piece that was debuted at the Kitchen in New York City during the ’70s, it’s still very funny. Not to be outdone, Brooks Whitehouse performed the hilarious “Possessed” by John Steinmetz. Always on the lookout for duet repertoire, Sharpe and Whitehouse premiered a new composition by John Allemeier.

John Allemeier is widely known in new music circles across the country and around the world. His works include computer music as well as music for chamber, percussion ensemble, orchestra and dance. He has made a number of recordings on Albany and Capstone, including Quest, New Music for Violin and Cello (Albany, 2010). Allemeier teaches composition and music theory at UNC-Charlotte.  

Whitehouse and Sharpe performed Allemeier’s “Undercurrents” for cello and double bass. The piece is written as a single movement and progresses slowly, almost hypnotically drawing the listener into a nether world of sound. Seamlessly, the two musicians alternate between two distinct waves of motion: one resembling the surface of a rippling stream; the other is the cold, slow moving undercurrent. Like a stream that gradually takes on more and more water, the piece grows, very subtly to a brief climax only to fade out in the end. The performance was lovely. I’d like to hear it again. 

Low and Lower closed with the wonderful “Poke: a bagatelle on anti-social media” by Lawrence Dillon. From the “What Is Your Musical IQ” survey to the every-popular YouTube favorite, “Baby Got Bouts,” Whitehouse and Sharpe stirred up one belly laugh after another. And crossing the lines that sometimes divide us, Low and Lower provided a sense of balance to news junkies, nutrition for concert-goers and hope to musicians plagued by the ghosts of teachers past. They are marvelous musicians who serve up serious art with wit and charm. And if you missed the concert, get on a fast plane for the next performance.

Low and Lower were brought to us by Music at NC State in conjunction with the Arts Now! Series and the PMC Lecture series.