Ensemble Dal Niente: confined. speak.


Chicago based Ensemble Dal Niente releases confined. speak., a collection of works the group programmed in streaming performances during this past year. Despite the formidable hurdles associated with ensemble playing during the lockdown, Dal Niente presented concerts and took advantage of the ability to collaborate across vast distances. This album chronicles highlights from those events, featuring music by Melissa Vargas, George Lewis, Tomás Gueglio, Hilda Paredes, Igor Santos, and Andile Khumalo that reflects broad geographic influences from South America, North America, and Africa.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 63:34
01confined. speak.
confined. speak.
Ensemble Dal Niente, MingHuan Xu, violin, Winston Choi, piano13:17
02Demente Cuerda
Demente Cuerda
Ensemble Dal Niente, Ben Melsky, harp, Emma Hospelhorn, flute, Andrew Nogal, oboe, Zachary Good, clarinet, Ben Roidl-Ward, bassoon, Matthew Oliphant, french horn, Kyle Flens, percussion, Colin McCall, percussion, Tara Lynn Ramsey, violin, Caitlin Edwards, violin, Ammie Brod, viola, Juan Horie, cello, Edward Kass, double bass, Michael Lewanski, conductor15:02
03Triste y madrigal
Triste y madrigal
Ensemble Dal Niente, Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, soprano, Emma Hospelhorn, flute, Matthew Oliphant, french horn, Ben Melsky, harp, Jesse Langen, electric guitar, Tara Lynn Ramsey, violin, Michael Lewanski, conductor7:53
04Merce and Baby
Merce and Baby
Ensemble Dal Niente, Constance Volk, flute, Kyle Flens, percussion, Tara Lynn Ramsey, violin, Chris Wild, cello, Michael Lewanski, conductor9:13
05Es casi como el inicio... y comienza
Es casi como el inicio... y comienza
Ensemble Dal Niente, Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, soprano, Katie Jimoh, clarinet, Jesse Langen, guitar, Kyle Flens, percussion5:37
06Beyond Her Mask
Beyond Her Mask
Ensemble Dal Niente, Carrie Henneman Shaw, soprano, Constance Volk, flute, Andrew Nogal, oboe, Katie Jimoh, clarinet, Matthew Oliphant, french horn, Mabel Kwan, piano, Kyle Flens, percussion, Tara Lynn Ramsey, violin, Ammie Brod, viola, Juan Horie, cello, Michael Lewanski, conductor12:32

As with many new music groups, Chicago based Ensemble Dal Niente drew on deep resources of invention during the last couple of years to continue to present work that channeled our contemporary moment into sound. confined.speak. documents that work, specifically featuring five works that they championed during this period. These works reflect stark dichotomies that shaped these last eighteen months — enforced isolation and restricted movement mixed with a neutralizing of distance and geographic hurdles due to the migration of most activity to the virtual realm. The result is a rich snapshot of one ensemble’s fruitful work in the time of Covid, with composers representing three continents who share a sensibility of digging beneath the expected and discovering a fresh way to manifest forces pulling us in many directions.

Igor Santos’ title track expresses confinement in various ways — through constricted timbres such as the use of mutes, variegated bow pressure techniques, and inside the piano textures; through taut repetitive loops that mechanize the texture; and through a limited pitch language. Watery chord clusters in the piano accompany poignant muted double stops in the violin, an aria echoing off the walls inside one’s own mind.

Hilda Paredes’ kaleidoscopic harp concerto, Demente Cuerda (translated as either “demented string” or “of sound mind”) explores the intersection and divergence between the harp’s delicate timbre and the diverse colors of the ensemble. The work has a rhapsodic spirit, with vibrant, composite instrumental gestures melding together to create sinewy hybrid lines. The ensemble seems to grow out of the lush sound of the harp, indeed creating a large extended hybrid instrument of sorts, shadowing its twists and turns.

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Tomás Gueglio’s Triste y madrigal is the first of three works featuring voice on the program. Soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett adopts a silvery, quasi-straight tone approach over a murky, ambiguous accompaniment of nocturnal utterances and interjections in the ensemble. This sonic bog gradually becomes more animated and engaged with the foreground melodic material before the texture is suddenly interrupted by an automated voice overlaid with orchestral interludes and voice clips from 1940’s melodrama. The cool, detached quality of the main voice and ensemble material juxtaposed with the nostalgic flashback to a bygone time echoes what many of us experienced during lockdown, a yearning for a richer emotional experience that we could only access through memory.

On Merce and Baby, George Lewis imagines the music that may have resulted from a documented collaboration between choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham and jazz drummer Baby Dodds. Short imitative gestures bounce through the quartet like bird song, energized by a vigorous, off-kilter percussion part. Embedded within the texture is a microtonal quotation of John Cage’s solo piano work Cheap Imitation. An extended lyrical violin solo passage and subsequent interwoven trio section provides a contrasting energy. By reimagining this historical meeting of the minds, Lewis shines light on one of many fruitful intersections between creative music in the white and black communities that have not been adequately recognized.

Melissa Vargas’ Es casi como el inicio... y comienza is written in non-metrical notation, instead orienting the pace of material around a clock timer. Deliberately drawn out instrumental gestures lay a foundation for wild, melismatic syllabic passages in the voice.

Andile Khumalo’s Beyond Her Mask confronts violence against women in his native South Africa. Khumalo used spectral analysis of the percussion instrument the Lion’s Roar and the human voice to generate material for the score. An impactful spoken text is painted by dramatic, coloristic orchestration in the ensemble. Khumalo creates an ethereal, surreal musical landscape, aptly capturing the line in the text, “Reality melts into a symphony of feelings and fleeting moments.” What a resonant image indeed for an album that chronicles a moment in time when our collective reality became suddenly suspended and driven inward.

– Dan Lippel

Engineering: Aphorism Studios; Dan Nichols and Mark Alletag Assistants Brandon Bott, Qi Yun

Mastering: Fredrick Gifford

Album artwork: alejandro t. acierto; Good Thomas Design, Natalie Mills Bontumasi

Additional technical support: Igor Santos

Dal Niente 2020/2021 Staff: Ben Melsky, Executive Director; Tomás Gueglio, Ensemble Manager; Emma Hospelhorn, Publicity Director; Igor Santos, Technical Director; Kyle Flens, Audience Development Director; Ammie Brod, Social Media

Artistic Programming Committee: Ben Melsky, Michael Lewanski, Amanda DeBoer Bartlett,

Tara Lynn Ramsey, Tomás Gueglio, Mabel Kwan, Emma Hospelhorn

Ensemble Dal Niente

Ensemble Dal Niente performs new and experimental chamber music with dedication, virtuosity, and an exploratory spirit. Dal Niente’s roster of 23 musicians presents an uncommonly broad range of contemporary music, guiding listeners towards music that transforms existing ideas and subverts convention. Audiences coming to Dal Niente shows can expect distinctive productions—from fully staged operas to multimedia spectacles to intimate solo performances—that are curated to pique curiosity and connect art, culture, and people.

Now in its second decade, Ensemble Dal Niente has performed concerts across Europe and the Americas, including appearances at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC; The Foro Internacional de Música Nueva in Mexico City; MusicArte Festival in Panama City; The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Darmstadt Summer Courses in Germany, where it was the first-ever ensemble to win the Kranichstein prize for interpretation in 2012.

The group has recordings available on the New World, New Amsterdam, New Focus, Navona, Parlour Tapes+, and Carrier labels; has held residencies at The University of Chicago, Harvard University, Stanford University, Brown University, Brandeis University, and Northwestern University, among others; and collaborated with a wide range of composers, from Enno Poppe to George Lewis to Erin Gee to Greg Saunier and Deerhoof.

The ensemble's name, Dal Niente ("from nothing" in Italian), is a tribute to Helmut Lachenmann's Dal niente (Interieur III), a work that upended traditional conceptions of instrumental technique; and also a reference to the group’s humble beginnings.


Igor Santos

Igor Santos is native of Curitiba, Brazil and has been based in Chicago for many years. A winner of the Rome Prize, his music has been performed internationally by leading musicians such as Ensemble Dal Niente, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Alarm Will Sound, Eighth Blackbird, POING, the American Composers Orchestra, and The Florida Orchestra. In addition to writing concert music, he served as Technical Director for Ensemble Dal Niente, and composes for theater productions throughout the US and Europe. Please visit:


Hilda Paredes

Hilda Paredes is firmly established as one of the leading Mexican composers of her generation, and has been based in London for 35 years. While there is a testimony of constant collaboration with Mexican poets and artists in her works, she also draws inspiration from music and cultures from around the world. She studied at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City with Mario Lavista, and was an active participant in master classes at Dartington Summer School, studying with Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, and Richard Rodney Bennett.


Tomás Gueglio

Tomás Gueglio is an Argentine composer based in Chicago. His music devises surreal and unique sound worlds through purposefully blending a variety of musical lineages and styles. Private languages, the logic of dreams, melodramas, and radio soap operas feature as central metaphors in his recent work. In addition to composing, he works as Ensemble Manager for Ensemble Dal Niente, and as Music Theory and Aural Skills Lecturer at Northwestern University.


George Lewis

George E. Lewis has been a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, Lewis's work in electronic and computer music, computer-based multimedia installations, and notated and improvisative forms is documented on more than 140 recordings. His work has been presented by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonia Orchestra, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Talea Ensemble, Dinosaur Annex, Ensemble Pamplemousse, Wet Ink, Ensemble Erik Satie, Eco Ensemble, and others, with commissions from American Composers Orchestra, International Contemporary Ensemble, Harvestworks, Ensemble Either/Or, Orkestra Futura, Turning Point Ensemble, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad, IRCAM, Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, and others. Lewis has served as Ernest Bloch Visiting Professor of Music, University of California, Berkeley; Paul Fromm Composer in Residence, American Academy in Rome; Resident Scholar, Center for Disciplinary Innovation, University of Chicago; and CAC Fitt Artist In Residence, Brown University.

Lewis received the 2012 SEAMUS Award from the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, and his book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008) received the American Book Award and the American Musicological Society’s Music in American Culture Award. Lewis is co-editor of the two-volume Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (2016), and his opera Afterword, commissioned by the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago, premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in October 2015 and has been performed in the United States, United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic.

Professor Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. A 2015 Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, Lewis has received a MacArthur Fellowship (2002), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), a United States Artists Walker Fellowship (2011), an Alpert Award in the Arts (1999), and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2015, Lewis received the degree of Doctor of Music (DMus, honoris causa) from the University of Edinburgh. He came to Columbia in 2004, having previously taught at the University of California, San Diego, Mills College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Koninklijke Conservatorium Den Haag, and Simon Fraser University's Contemporary Arts Summer Institute. Lewis studied composition with Muhal Richard Abrams at the AACM School of Music, and trombone with Dean Hey.

Melissa Vargas

Melissa Vargas studied Musical Arts [composition] at the ASAB Department of Arts of the District University Francisco José de Caldas in Bogotá, Colombia and completed her Masters in Artistic Studies at the same institution. Vargas researches women composers in Latin America and Colombia. She is curator/producer/ founder of the contemporary and experimental concert cycle libres en el sonido, carried out at the cultural venue *matik-matik*, and is co-founder of the Festival Mujeres en la Música Nueva.


Andile Khumalo

Andile Khumalo is a South African composer and a music lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand. In 2013, he completed his Doctor of Musical Arts at Columbia University under the supervision of George Lewis, where he also studied with Fabien Levy and Tristan Murail. Prior to his DMA, Khumalo studied under Marco Stroppa at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart (HMDKS) and with Jürgen Bräuninger at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Please visit: music.columbia.edu/bios/andile-khumalo


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