Violinist Miranda Cuckson plays a lot like she looks – smart and stylish, with a beguiling charm. 

These are not terms one normally uses to describe modern music. Especially the kind that Cuckson takes on, wild excursions in sonic extremes and fierce technique. She described one piece that she played at the Transformer Station on April 1 as “practically impossible,” holding up a page black with notes to show the audience.

What’s most impressive about Cuckson is the warmth and humanity she brings to the music. Highly abstract, it tends to sound cold even in the best hands. Cuckson refracts its hard beauty through a prism of color and emotion, bringing to life its primal appeal.

 In an opening piece by Xenakis, she built an intense sound that crackled and buzzed and seemed to swoop around the room. An extended exercise in microtonality by George Freidrich Hass was like an inventory of new sounds and techniques, daunting at times but skillfully drawn. A final dazzling run gave Cuckson a chance to show some serious chops.

Pierre Boulez sounded comparatively tame in this program, especially with Cuckson giving his Anthemes 1 an airy quality, rich in vibrant colors. An homage to a Luigi Nono work that Cuckson recorded with electronics wizard Christopher Burns built to a noise that sounded like the music itself was being torn apart. Cuckson added vocals in some of the quieter moments that gave the piece another dimension. 

And far from impossible, Brian Ferneyhough’s Intermedia alla ciaconna turned out to be a showcase for a variety of demanding techniques. Cuckson is not a flamboyant player – she is too deep into the music for that. But she gave a dazzling demonstration of why she’s become such an in-demand artist.

Speaking of which, Cuckson came to Cleveland from Munich, where she performed with jazz pianist Vijay Iyer. She’s on his latest CD, Mutations, another indication of her range and talent.

There is one more date left (April 27) in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s series of avant-garde concerts at the Transformer Station. If you have not seen them yet, you are missing something special.

 – by Frank Kuznik, Cultured Cleveland
(April 2014 review not archived online, but text provided again by Mr. Kuznik)