in: Reviews

April 7, 2009

Dyno Duo: Innovative Pairing Yields Incredible Results

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The repertoire for multiple clarinets and accordion is limited, yet fruitful. The Dyno Duo, consisting of Diane Heffner and Katherine Matasy, illustrated the intricacy and integrity of these works in a concert last Sunday, April 5, sponsored by the Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble at the Community Music Center of Boston. Consisting of music by Judith Weir, Guy Klucevsek, Joan Tower, and premieres of commissioned pieces by Lansing McLoskey and John Howell Morrison (both in attendance), this night proved to be one of the most exceptional and inspiring concerts I have ever attended.

The concert began with Weir’s Sketches from a Bagpiper’s Album (1984) with Matasy on the clarinet and Yvonne Lee on the piano. Weir reinterprets three classic genres – Salute, Nocturne, and Lament – through a modern lens. Matasy handled the trumpet-like fanfares of the Salute with ease, and both players steadily maintained the metrical feel of a heroic march, even through rapidly changing thematic developments and rhythmic changes. And she demonstrated her mastery of the clarinet through the long, sweeping bel canto melodies of the Nocturne in the high clarinet register. Weir illuminates the lament – historically a woman’s song of mourning – through the use of the lower range of the clarinet and throbbing dissonances between the clarinet and piano parts.

Klucevsek’s solo accordion piece, Loosening Up the Queen (1987), with Matasy now on the accordion, proved her more than efficient ability with this instrument, especially through her clear distinction between the beautiful slow moving melody-and-accompaniment beginning and complicated syncopated rhythms of the middle section.

Concluding the first half was a complicated piece by Tower, Fantasy (…those harbor lights) (1983), with Diane Heffner on clarinet and Lee again accompanying on the piano. As an introduction, Heffner and Lee played through the 1950s song “Harbor Lights,” fragments of which Tower quotes in this piece. This prelude was a wise decision, for now the audience had aural cues to watch out for in Tower’s seemingly spontaneous music. Heffner and Lee shone as musicians through their careful handling of virtuosic solo passages of “fantasy” music (whose roots are in the art of improvisation) alternating between instruments. Lee’s beautifully flowing yet rhythmic opening chords and melodic lines juxtaposed with Heffner’s lingering and expressive presentation of similar material at the piece’s close provided a strong sense of each musician’s personal style.

The second half of the concert opened with the premiere of John Howell Morrison’s Ember (2009), a work for multiple clarinets and accordion commissioned by the Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble. In this piece, Morrison experiments with the use of physical space, varying combinations of instruments and essentially static musical lines, in addition to applying concepts of the I Ching hexagram to title the piece. (The description of the corresponding hexagram as being the point of lowest light moved Morrison to think of nurturing an ember in winter.) Ember begins and ends with one instrument on stage, another off stage and a third playing from the back of the hall. Morrison exploits the sounds and timbres of clarinets (both Bb and bass clarinet) and accordion through the ever-changing pairings of instruments sounding together such as two bass clarinets with accordion, one of each clarinet and accordion, and two accordions with bass clarinet. Through the deliberate decision of composing for the lower range of the bass clarinet, its most vibrant point, Morrison’s music created physical sensations for the listener as well. Morrison’s use of space and orchestration was ingenious, giving the audience an incredible inter-sensual experience, stimulating the eyes, ears, brain and entire body. The intimate nature of the hall coupled with the deft skill of the musicians, Matasy, Heffner and Vivian Montgomery, made for a memorable performance.

The premiere of Lansing McLoskey’s blur (2009), another Dinosaur Annex commission, was performed by Matasy on clarinet and Heffner on basset horn. In the program notes, McLoskey writes that “blur is an exploration of the blurring of boundaries. Blurring the boundaries between solo and duet; between consonance and dissonance; between the clarinet and Bassett Horn; between contrasting musical ideas; and blurring the boundaries of expectation.” I found the relationship between consonance and dissonance to be the most striking aspect of this multi-layered piece. Jarring dissonances often resolved to satisfying consonances, making those instances where they did not resolve even more noticeable. In other places, due to their musical context, consonant intervals sounded dissonant and vice versa, effectively blurring the boundary between the two sonorities. Matasy and Heffner truly listened to each other throughout this performance, ensuring that the consonant and dissonant qualities of the intervals presented were as tuned as possible, that their points of overlap were exact, and that each note was hit with accuracy. This work was my favorite of the concert, inspiring me to be more critical when thinking about musical sonority, form and thematic development in the future.

Concluding the second half was another composition of Guy Klucevsek, The Return of Lasse (2004), performed by Matasy on the accordion and Heffner on clarinet. Originally written to accompany a dance, this piece is in rondo form and employs the shifting meters characteristic of Balkan music. A quickly moving piece with complicated meter and rhythms gave one last hurrah to the remarkable skills of Matasy and Heffner, the Dyno Duo.

The musical talents of Matasy and Heffner are undeniable, and when coupled with a well-programmed concert and additional talented musicians, the effect was tremendous. I left this concert wanting to learn more about clarinet and accordion repertoire and their intersections, in addition to my new-found fascination with the intricacies of contemporary music, as illustrated by the different approaches of McLoskey and Morrison, even when writing for the same duo of instruments. A memorable concert, indeed!

Elizabeth Perten is a doctoral student in Musicology at Brandeis University and also is pursuing a Joint MA in Music and Women’s and Gender Studies. She graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University, with a BA in Music. Elizabeth’s research interests include 19th century piano music, music criticism, women in music, historiography and the 19th century composer’s role as music critic and its subsequent effect on music history.

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