in: Reviews

January 24, 2009

Collage New Music: Tight Reins and Other Spaces

by

Richard Cornell’s Light of October, a Collage commission premiered in 1998, protracts and zooms and protracts. Like his other works, its perpetual energy propels the music through an outer space lit up with clearly delineated objects. They tend to elude gravity. They flash by on the verge of dancing. They are mysterious, searching. They come close to seeming overwhelmed. Their mechanics demonstrate near inhuman precision. You might be wondering if this music is seriously playful or playfully serious.

Ultimately American, the music of James Yannatos harvests that which is around and has come before, celebrating, as it were, the wondrous and ever widening diversity that makes our country what it is. And what is more, what is out there and what is in him is what catches our attention. His composing, and here, his Haiku Cycles of 1994, parlay his vast range of encounters with music into one unselfconscious ethos, often innocent, welcoming. You are intent upon how a space, familiar in ways, unfolds and embraces.

Throughout this season, collage new music is honoring Andrew Imbrie whose music inhabits a contained space. Short perky melodies cast in jumpy, anxious rhythms drive the music along. With a scarcity of landmarks, there is little sense of arriving and departing, of going somewhere. Some noticeable contrasts may turn up, their penchant for conversation lending still more uniformity. Harmony, too, rarely can be found; instead, those perky melodic shreds run here and there and all over from instrument to instrument. In a few words, Imbrie keeps a tight rein on his music, his Roethke Songs offering proof.

Once below the somewhat dry and colorless surface of Earplay Fantasy (1995), a conversation-like composition rich in highly crafted detail emerges. Not always easy to follow, the music succeeds in alluring the ear, what can be done in so confined a space is what becomes fascinating.

Jacob Druckman’s Come Round, a set of variations dating from 1992, generates bold gestures and jarring contrasts. It is outwardly emotional, a phantasmagoria: sweet notes turn angry in a split second, a series of eruptions cannot shake lose an oblivious sound hanging up high on the violin. There is no beat no melody as we know from preceding traditions. Continuous texture-making and sound-making of all sorts permeate a vast, high powered “expressionistic” space. The musical experience is immediate. You take what comes.

David Hoose directed the six member ensemble: Christopher Krueger, flute, Robert Annis, clarinet, Catherine French, violin, Joel Moerschel, cello, Christopher Oldfather, piano, and Craig McNutt, percussion. All gave a super high level performance where precision and expression were equally evident. They put the most polished of sheens that Cornell’s sextet calls for and effectively created very scary drama with comic play for Druckman’s Come Round.

An abundance of cues in the beautifully descriptive and sensitive instrumental writing of the Yannatos Haiku Cycle (cricket chirping, darting dragon-fly, sea-surf, air stirs, voices of wild ducks) informed the listener more than it seemed to have the noted soprano soloist, Susan Narucki. Unfortunately, I could make out only a few of the words she sang.

Imbrie’s Roethke Songs, though, allowed her a space she thrives in. Together with Oldfather’s astonishing pianism that finds an unbelievable range of sonorities, Narucki, herself, brought new expression to each of the five songs. In the mid to lower range and even the higher range of her voice when it is softer, less energized, there were sounds she made that surprised, caused wonder. In the louder high register sounds there was edginess often hard to take.

Hoose’s tribute to Imbrie revealed love and admiration for both the person and the composer. He introduced Earplay Fantasy with instructive commentary and illustration.

The tight reins Imbrie put on his music, according to Hoose, reflect the lean, towering person he was: “there is no fat” just as there are no unneeded notes in the music. And all are, down to the very last, vibrant and youthful. I thought Hoose and collage new music made brilliant conversation.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department at U. Mass Boston for the past 15 years, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. Also a composer, he lives in Watertown.

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