Collage New Music concluded its 2008-09 season on March 2. Despite Monday’s weather, the concert went on as scheduled, and few people seemed deterred from coming to see it.
It opened with Donald Crockett’s Pilgrimage for solo piano. It was a piece made primarily of bold gestures. They swept through the instrument’s entire range, initially making a strong impression, but never quite forming a larger progression.
Andrew Imbrie’s Chicago Bells was a violin/piano duo. The bells of the title were reflected in a recurring piano motive. The slow-fast-slow arrangement of movements suggested a large-scale swinging, a journey outwards followed by inner contemplation. Catherine French’s silky tone complemented the rhapsodic writing that emerged in the middle movement.
Two pieces by Tobias Picker followed. His writing hints at the operas in his catalog: clarity of texture and scale of emotion that can withstand enlargement to full orchestra. The two songs from Rain in the Trees, in fact, were from an orchestral song cycle. Judith Bettina sang with the nostalgia called for by the texts, but with a degree of restraint. Christopher Oldfather’s accompaniment pointed at much vaster instrumentation. The Blue Hula brought the entire Collage group together (Pierrot plus percussion). It was a “fun” piece, highlighting virtuosic ensemble playing.
Following intermission were two Collage commissions for full ensemble, one new and one old. David Rakowski’s Phillis Levin Songs (the premiere) was really a knockout. Levin’s writing occupied an interior space, looking out to nature for metaphors to explicate personal situations. The music was vividly pictorial, nimbly conjuring forest scenes, subatomic reactions, snowfall, and other snapshot moments.
The program closed with another Pilgrimage, this one by Imbrie. It cast the group as a bunch of boisterous characters (not unlike what Elliott Carter might do) pushing past each other towards the proverbial pearly gates.
The ensemble played throughout with precision, posture, and poise, attentive to the unique demands of each piece. A very fine way to cap off a season.