in: Reviews

February 1, 2014

Dinosaur Annexes Youth

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Dinosaur Annex’s “I Make Music,” its 11th annual young composers’ concert last night at Pickman Hall, provided a platform much envied by so many who are writing music—so-called serious music— these days. One should not imagine preteens or teens; these composers are twenty-something if not more. Most senior would be Phyllis Chen (b. 1978). Her amiable Hush featured a music box, bowls, toy piano and prepared piano. Chris Rogerson’s Once bared a naturally and colorfully eclectic voice. These, and three other works on the program, two commissioned by Dinosaur Annex, mostly received high gear performances.

Hush was a solid opener, friendly in timbre, content, and length. Only high inventories of pitch often pulsed and often repetitious, walking then running somewhat like a gamelan, musically welcomed the smallish audience. Donald Berman tastefully circled the upper keys of the prepared piano à la Cage while Robert Schulz cranked the music box with a sweet rubato, later drawing Balinese-like punctuations from the bowls. Chen’s take on other cultures would help listeners chart their way through the lovely echoes of classical music traditions she has created.

Violinist Gabriela Diaz together with Berman made music the old-fashioned way by their having drawn an emotive and evocative landscape for Once. This composition of Chris Rogerson
(b. 1988) dating from 2011 speaks more in the languages of pre-fifties Americans (Barber, Copland). His titles of the four movements begin to explain this penchant: “Learning the World,” “Massing Clouds,” “Relearning,” and “Fireflies.” Rogerson has a sure hand, nothing ever forced, a real naturalness for handling accessible material.

As with two others, Dinosaur Annex’s program notes did not include the date of birth for Ju Ri Seo, an oddity given the intent of the concert. Seo’s Sextet, commissioned for young performers, indeed featured student musicians Tristan Flores, violin, Henry McEwen, cello, and Cindy Shi, viola who performed alongside Dinosaur Annex musicians Diaz, Anne Black, viola, Velléda Miragias and Henry McEwen, both on cello. I am not sure whether the performers, the composition, or both contributed to some unattractive surfaces, for instance where thick harmony met with seemingly instable dynamics. The titles of the five movements suggest Seo’s conservative tact, for examples, “Prelude,” “Dance Movement,” and “Fractal Triads.” The quarter-note feel wore quickly.

John Liberatore’s Nemo sleeps (2012) is hardly developmental; rather it leans toward the textural and gestural. In this series of short movements, eight in all, darkness, if not dreariness prevails. It was hard to detect personality in this confined, well-trodden sonic space. You can go to YouTube [here] to get an idea of the distracting images and texts that were projected on Longy’s screen, overshadowing the miniatures and demoting them to something like accompaniment. Pianist Donald Berman played all of them sharply and concisely, his pianism providing the real attraction. After some searching, I was unable to find this composer’s date of birth.

Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin doubled on alto flute and piccolo, Katherine V. Matasy on clarinet and bass clarinet in Emily Koh’s synpunkt. With Robert Schulz on percussion this world premiere and Dinosaur commission uncovered blips and bleeps of times past and a cute return to tonality for its closing move. The woodwinds left the percussion pretty much out of their dialogue. While it seemed that Koh (b. 1986) was adapting well to last century’s wind techniques, her writing for percussion was just hatching due to its simpler choices of instruments and declarations.

The bios of the five composers would argue with much of this account of the young composers’ music at Longy School of Music of Bard College (as it is now known, Dinosaur’s brochure needs updating). Every one of the composers can boast prizes, commissions, and so forth, which leaves me wondering how organizations such as this well-regarded one go about selecting the works and composers they do. Above all, it can be argued that—and there cannot be enough applause for—Dinosaur Annex’s uncommon and ongoing commitment to the exposure and promotion of new works by composers of all ages.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. www.notescape.net

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