in: Reviews

April 16, 2010

More “Volatile” than Not: Composer’s Memory for Dinosaur Annex

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When asked before the performance by Dinosaur Annex at Goethe-Institut on April 11 what was meant by its program title, “Non-Volatile Memory Storage,” Yu-Hui Chang, the ensemble’s new Co-Artistic Director, admitted that she was not sure, that it had been chosen before she arrived. At least the “memory” part made sense; all music deals implicitly with memory, but most of this concert’s works did so explicitly, either in their extra-musical associations or in their reworking of other music. “Non-volatile” was a less convincing descriptor however, as more of the music was volatile than not, allowing the Dinosaur players to demonstrate their virtuosity and sensitivity in complex ensemble interplay.

In the premiere of Shih-Hui Chen’s Returnings, Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin (flute), Michael Curry (cello) and Robert Shulz (percussion) held an intimate musical conversation. The piece opened gently, with intricately balanced melodic motives echoing among the three performers. Each player then had a chance to lead as the work grew in intensity through a series of large arcs, alternating music of a more rhythmic character with references to the opening texture. After an insistent climactic section, recognizable as a transformation of the opening, the music melted away beautifully into a prolonged consonant harmony that seemed to embrace all that had come before.

Anne Black (viola) and Donald Berman (piano) played with dramatic flair and precise ensemble coordination in Arthur Levering’s Tesserae, a set of variations in which the 32-note theme serves primarily as raw material from which the composer creates an array of compelling textures. The piece featured very rich sonorities, and a surprisingly unified blend between the dissimilar sounds of viola and piano.

Peter Homans based his Reliquaire, also a world premiere, on musical ideas derived from Charles Wuorinen’s Reliquary, which itself is based on material from some of Igor Stravinsky’s last sketches. A Stravinskian insouciance was evident in the brightly off-kilter dance-like music that was a consistent thread through the composition, and Wuorinen’s influence could be heard in the kaleidoscopic fractured textures. The tug of a darker romantic undercurrent was also a consistently felt beneath the often scattered and shifting surface, which helped to drive the music purposely forward. The Dinosaur players (with violinists Cyrus Stevens and Lena Wong joining Ms. Black, Mr. Curry, and Mr. Berman), led by conductor David Hoose, took the virtuosic complexity in stride and projected a clear collective understanding of the musical expression behind the notes.

Ms. Hershman-Tcherepnin then performed the premiere of The Crows Return, a “duet” by Forrest Larson for solo flute and recorded sound, in which most of the musical development was carried by the pre-recorded part, consisting of lightly altered found sounds: first of the inside of a piano, and later of crows. Against these the flute plays octatonic melodies, and as Larson writes, the crows eventually “prevail in the conversation.” The concert concluded with Stephen Hartke’s The King of the Sun, a piano quartet in which the six movements, each titled after paintings by Joán Miró, share a web of interrelated material, some of which derives from Le ray au soleyl, a late medieval canon.

David McMullin is a Boston-based composer whose works have been performed by major ensembles in the United States, Europe and Asia. With degrees from Yale (BA) and NYU (PhD), he teaches music theory at New England Conservatory, directs the New England chapter of the American Composers Forum, and serves on the executive board of the International Society for Contemporary Music.

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