Luciano Berio

International Contemporary Ensemble
Rosenberg + Kaufman Fine Art; Thu 6–Sat 8, 2003

Italian composer Luciano Berio worked throughout his career on his Sequenzas, a series of challenging compositions for unaccompanied solo instruments. Staples of the 20th-century repertoire, the Sequenzas are thick with extended techniques—tense muttering and gasping in the vocal Sequenza, unconventional tonguings for saxophone, and so on—and cycle through a staggering range of emotions, from outrage to placidity, lyricism to anxiety. When Berio passed away last May at age 77, he had just completed his 14th Sequenza, a work for cello that leaves major aspects of its performance up to the individual musician.

The New York premiere of the cello piece, to be played this weekend by Flux Quartet's Darrett Adkins, is part of a larger milestone: the world's first performance of the complete cycle. This historic event is the brainchild of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), a collective of accomplished young musicians based in New York and Chicago.

A self-described "bunch of misfits," ICE was conceived in 2001 by flutist Claire Chase and composer Huang Ruo, both multiple award winners and recent graduates of Oberlin Conservatory. "After graduation, we felt empty without our colleagues from Oberlin," Chase says; she and Ruo founded the ensemble to keep their network of friends connected. Pointing out that Berio composed most of the Sequenzas for his friends, Chase believes that ICE's personal history suits the pieces. "I think this performance would have warmed Berio's heart," she says.