The New York-based sextet yMusic has quickly become the go-to ensemble in the so-called “indie classical” community. They have recently been championing the music of Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and on Balance Problems they’ve assembled a collection of works from fellow shape-shifters like Nico Muhly and Sufjan Stevens.
The title track, by Nico Muhly — only 33 and already a seasoned veteran who’s written for the Met, the New York Philharmonic, Hollywood and Björk — offers Muhly’s engaging blend of minimalist rhythm patterns and near-choral writing for the winds. Muhly and yMusic have worked together frequently, and Muhly knows how to make these six musicians sound like many more. By contrast, the Brazilian-born, Chicago-based Marcos Balter makes the acoustic sextet sound almost electronic in his remarkably eerie “Bladed Stance,” with the six instruments circling around one another, evoking the echo and delay effects of electric guitars.
Sufjan Stevens, displayed his compositional chops in his successful music/film project The BQE in 2007 (featuring yMusic’s members in the chamber orchestra that played it). That multimedia work showed the influence of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. “The Human Plague” is similarly inflected, a chattering cycle of rhythm patterns that recalls Music for 18 Musicians. Composer/pianist Timo Andres offers “Safe Travels,” which begins as a striking flute/clarinet duet and gradually accumulates other instruments in a moderate-paced work that suggests post-minimalism without actually going there.
Andrew Norman’s “Music in Circles” begins with an unusual, largely abstract prologue (Part 1) that picks itself up and pulls itself together in Part 2, which revels in the tension between the scraping, bustling rhythm of the strings and the calmly flowing clarinet and trumpet. (One moment sounds like a train bearing down on a flock of chirping birds.) Eventually, the texture clears out and we end with a slow nocturne. In fact, very little of Balance Problems seems to be in a big hurry: Mark Dancigers contributes the placid, almost ambient “Everness” and Jeremy Turner looks to the lower-bodied strings to set the stage for “The Bear And the Squirrel,” which is essentially a lovely adagio.