SXSW 2010: Balmorhea, Hauschka, Volodja Balzalorsky @ Central Presbyterian Church–3-17-10
Central Presbyterian Church is an oasis for fans and musicians alike: No muddled sound, drunk hipsters, or irritable bloggers here–just an immense, rich space perfect for the avant-garde classical music on display Wednesday night. Little details immediately made it memorable–a bake sale in the church’s courtyard; a read poem to kick off the evening, dedicated to (and inspired by) the first act, Austin’s Balmorhea. Drama plays a big part in Balmorhea’s music. Piano, guitar, banjo, a string trio, and drums were all on display, working tensely together without any one instrument standing out. The group’s cinematic style provided an excellent introduction to the virtuoso violinist Volodja Balzalorsky. The Slovenian native followed Balmorhea with a compelling mixture of classical and atonal pieces that played well to the hodgepodge crowd.
But Hauschka was the obvious star. The German composer (neé Volker Bertelmann) uses a “prepared piano,” a technique first popularized by the experimental composer John Cage. Various objects are attached to the piano strings to dampen the sound–Hauschka himself used wooden sticks, ball bearings, a tambourine, and even ping-pong balls (which bounced up and down when a note was hit). When the piano keys are struck, it creates a unique rhythmic effect almost like a hammered dulcimer. As a result, Hauschka’s pieces felt otherworldly, nostalgic, and even a bit whimsical. A string quartet accompanied his prepared piano and provided melody while Hauschka, the mad scientist, tinkered away, far removed from the typical SXSW chaos swirling around outside the church’s walls.