Reprinted from Scope: Vegas Arts and Lifestyle
Volume 6, Issue 03, May 17--30, 1997

High Art, Sex and Maracas

Admittedly, it's been a while since I've attended a chamber music recital. In fact, the last time I experienced live chamber music, it was performed by musicians from the Bolshoi, while the Soviet Union was still in force and you couldn't be certain if the performers had a choice in the matter. On May 2nd, when I saw the acclaimed Sierra Winds ensemble perform "Casino" at the Winchester Community Center, I realized why I had spent so much time away from chamber music: there isn't enough maraca in it. Thankfully, the Sierra Winds don't suffer from that shortcoming.

I was pleasantly surprised by how un-stuffy the whole evening was. The program opened with "Valentine's Medley," described as a selection of lounge songs performed in the classical style. It was nice that they tried to reach out to the lounge generation, but if they're trying to go for relevance, someone should tell them that Cole Porter doesn't get much play on the Strip these days. Still, it was fun to hear "Keep Your Sunny Side Up," "Frankie and Johnny" and "Just One Of Those Things" the way Mozart played 'em.

The featured piece, Phillip Kent Bimstein's "Casino," was performed following the challenging "Divertimento," and was easily the most experimental composition on the program. Much of the "music" of "Casino" was made up of samples of the ambient clutter of casino noise most of us have learned to tune out. I was amazed at just how sweet sounding Bimstein managed to make clattering dice, clinking poker chips and shuffling cards. Intermixed with this was the friendly, matter-of-fact observations of Tom Martinet, a former minister and 20-year veteran of Vegas dice tables. Martinet comes off as a sort of Sin City Garrison Keillor, spouting homespun casino homilies about luck and the psychology of gaming. Weaving seamlessly in and out of this is the melodic wanderings of the Sierra Winds. The divergent elements blended effortlessly.

Running through much of "Casino" is the sampled Martinet refrain "eat-drink-gamble-sex." I found it amusing that this night found the only audience in town who would respond with a nervous twitter at the word "sex." Days later I had a song running through my head, and it was only when I attached this phrase to it that I realized that I had chamber music running through my head. Bimstein and the Sierra Winds are to be commended: "Casino" is unquestionably the sort of culture fix that Vegas has been searching for: accessible high art that reflects our unique culture.

(F. Andrew Taylor)