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Posted on Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 8:50 a.m.

Edgefest ends the year with its mission fully accomplished

By Will Stewart

Sometimes the pieces all fall into the right places.

When you’re talking about Edgefest, which wrapped up its five-night residency on Saturday, that can refer to the notes being played, or the people playing them. In this case, it’s both.

Edgefest organizers got everything right this year, and the result was a festival that satisfied musically, while fulfilling the festival’s mandate this year to explore the roots between classical and avant garde music.

On Saturday, as it was throughout the festival, those connections were self evident, exploring modern classical music and out jazz performed by both new-music legends and talented college students.

Stephen Rush’s performance of John Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano,” was a stunning performance of a truly iconic piece of modern classical music. Performing at a piano “prepared” with screws, bolts and pieces of wood, Rush played dispassionately, letting the piano tinkle and thump and buzz through Cage’s series of short movements.

Rush, a University of Michigan music professor, has been performing the piece for a quarter century, and it’s obvious that he has a thorough grasp of its nuances.

The result was almost heartbreakingly beautiful, filling the candle-lit Kerrytown Concert House with a practicallt sacred vibe. It was as moving and mesmerizing a performance as we can remember in more than a decade of Edgefests.

It didn’t swing, but it certainly moved.

The evening’s—and the festival’s‚finale, the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, blew the roof off. With nearly 40 years together, the ensemble played fearlessly on a handful of original compositions that left plenty of room for long-form improvisations. Solos were few, but who needed them? The quartet’s intricate counterpoints, soaring harmonies and ever changing time signatures created the effect of collaborative solos. A stirring and appropriate end to a remarkable evening.

Here are some other high points from Edgefest 2011:

  • The trio of saxophonist Andrew Bishop, drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Tim Flood, which delivered one of the all-time best Edgefest sets on Thursday. The trio’s performance was a living, breathing entity that threatened to swallow a rapt audience whole. A trio like this one—locally formed and based is as much a hometown treasure as a Zingerman’s reuben.
  • Ned Rothenberg’s Clarinet Quintet #1, performed Wednesday with the MIVOS String Quartet, marking the piece’s Midwest debut. The composer, an Edgefest veteran, has created a gorgeous composition that’s as American as “Rhapsody in Blue,” without compromising exploration. A stunning set that was very well received.
  • Down the street, at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Saturday, legendary reedman Vinny Golia, leading the U-M Creative Arts Orchestra. Golia led the orchestra through its paces, having obvious fun pushing the students into the unknown as he conducted—and blew—with the ensemble through a pair of improvised workouts that defined improvisation.
  • Like Rush’s performance of Cage’s music, pianist Lucian Ban and bassist John Hebert’s “Enesco Revisited,” which took classical music—in this case, the work of twentieth century Romanian composer Georges Enesco—and ran it through the improvisational blender. The result, performed by an octet, was lush and romantic.