International Contemporary Ensemble’s debut London concert was a small-scale affair, tucked away in Hall 2 of Kings Place on a Sunday afternoon. But this talented group still gave us a great taste of why they’re such big news in the United States, with a pleasantly varied programme of new and recent music curated for them by Londoner and long-time collaborator Dai Fujikura.

Claire Chase © Stephanie Berger
Claire Chase
© Stephanie Berger

Three representatives from the flexibly-sized ensemble had made the trip: flautist Claire Chase, clarinettist Joshua Rubin (both founder members of ICE), and pianist Jacob Greenberg. The concert’s eight pieces neatly rotated between the three of them, embracing musical styles from the entrancing sonic experimentalism of Alvin Lucier, via the modernism of Elliott Carter, to the madcap stylings of John Zorn.

Fujikura, one of the first composers to work with ICE on their establishment ten years ago, was represented by a solo piece for each of the three performers: Glacier for bass flute (2011), Returning for piano (2006), and Rubicon for clarinet (2006). All three couple an exploratory approach with a subtle lyrical undercurrent, emphasised live by three expressive performances. Chase’s performance of Glacier, which opened the concert, was a particularly communicative and tender reading of this attractive study in multiphonics and other rare sonorities.

Chase’s other solo was Alvin Lucier’s Almost New York, consists of two sine waves, one slowly descending in pitch and one slowly rising, and a soloist picking out and playing notes from first one sine wave, and then the other, on a range of different flutes from piccolo to bass. Creating a mesmeric effect over what seemed like quite a long time, it asked us to do something a little different with our ears. I obliged, and enjoyed it.

Felipe Lara’s Livro de sonhos I (“Book of Dreams I”, 2004) for clarinet and piano is an engaging, virtuosic study in which the two instruments begin by often playing the same pitches, but present them in completely different ways, with contrasting types of accent or playing techniques. The two instruments later part company, in highly energetic style. Joshua Rubin and Jacob Greenberg performed it fluidly, as they did their various solo numbers. Of those, the prettiest was Greenberg’s rendition of Elliott Carter's miniature 90+, with its 90+ accented notes celebrating the composer Goffredo Petrassi’s 90th birthday.

The final item was a UK première, and John Zorn’s The Tempest was a marvellous way to close the set, as frenetic, scattergun and enthralling as Zorn tends to be. Apparently it’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s play, although any precise connections were lost on me, apart perhaps from some stormy bass drum playing at the start. I’m not complaining, though, because it was bursting with energy and completely unpredictable, in the best possible way. Chase and Rubin were joined here by percussionist Mark Sanders, described by Chase as “totally awesome beyond words”. He certainly had an awesome job on his hands, with what must have been a monumentally taxing kit part, but as far as it was possible to tell, it was all perfectly realized.

I’d love the opportunity to hear more from these talented players, and indeed their colleagues in ICE – this concert felt a little more like a taster menu than a full meal. Here’s hoping they can come back to London soon.