The Boston New Music Project has again summoned the Zodiac Trio from Paris to perform works it commissioned by Berklee and Boston Conservatory faculty and to showcase new works by the school’s promising students. The Zodiac Trio — Vanessa Mollard, violin, Kilment Krylovskiy, clarinet, Riko Higuma, piano — are a very polished and keen contemporary ensemble with an impressive list of credits and well-earned accolades. Their audience at Seully Hall on January 31 enjoyed world premieres of pieces written especially for the Zodiac Trio by BC’s Andy Vores (Fabrication 17: Stunt) and Berklee’s Andrew List (Visions From The Aboriginal Dreamtime) and two other modernist classics.
List’s Visions re-imagines creation legends of the cosmos in four linked movements, from protozoic miasma through the songlines to dances of unbridled frenzy: I. Introduction (“In the beginning the world was featureless, flat and grey“); II. The Dreamtime (“Giant mythical beings rose up out of the grey plains where they had been slumbering for countless ages“); III. Love Is a Gift From the Dreamtime (“The mythical beings create universal love“); IV. Corroboree (“Spirits from the Dreamtime show the people how to live“).
A sotto voce prelude leads to high violin harmonics, signaling a gentle dawn; then oscillating lines lead to an acerbic 2/4 of martial drama and sudden conflict, with subtle references to Stravinsky and Bartók. A bucolic legato 4/4 (violin and clarinet) signals the love theme; a dulcet clarinet melody rides over piano triplets and soars with violin alone before the piano returns with neoclassical underpinnings. A hard 4/4 piano ostinato (with added sforzando final beats) brings forth playfully rumbling dance figures, with linear echoes of Eastern Europe. A rolling clarinet figure, picked up by piano and violin, carries the piece to a bold, satisfying conclusion. List’s serene celebration of “the oneness of all living beings.” like that of the Aborigines, aims at preserving ancestral heritage, in this case by revisiting honored traditions within European classical music.
While the Zodiac Trio played Philip Glass’s Music in Fifths – a fleet straight eighth-note toccata in fifths and octaves chosen by the performers — in fixed synchronicity, a five-minute silent film was screened. Created for this performance by French film director Nicolas Hauser, the film mimicked the music’s urgent, re-cyclical forward motion by showing repeated footage of a perplexed man jogging on a city street. The jogger’s apparent intransigence when faced with a woman in scenes of emotional import may have been intended by Hauser to be reflected in the angular, unpitying score. While the film registered vague impressions of misunderstanding, aloofness, and unhappiness in this reviewer, the music did not particularly suit such an emotional — if indeed any — dramatic scenario.
Vores’s Fabrication 17: Stunt is a playful if complex conceit that unravels a skein of ten virtuosic variations on five iterations of a recent popular tune. (Did I hear ‘Britney’ mentioned?) Mysterious susurrant patter opens matters; then a clear, hearty, yearning tune soars – first unison, then in thirds – shared by violin and clarinet over a simple piano ostinato. Gradually the variations run off the rails: wisps of melody return – tousled, messed with, frizzed, smeared. A violin cadenza goes wild, the clarinet shrills, the piano part goes ditzy, then grinds down to sludge: a ‘technical’ breakdown. Vores toys with modulations, rhythmic and pattern shifts: it’s all amiably disrespectful, yet polished and witty, with a little Roy Harris-like dance motif making itself heard toward the end.
The program culminated with Ned Rorem’s End of Summer, a bravura triptych that — ‘remembering things past’ — whirls headlong through a plethora of styles and moods. The Capriccio’s astonishing collage opened with Mollard’s icily ripping cadenza and a graceful American folk melody, separated by furtively scurrying ostinati. The sweet song returned in Higuma’s hands, added deft interplay between violin and clarinet, then built hell-for-leather to a dashing tutti. The Fantasy, with its heady whiffs of Poulenc’s grace and elegance, made complex ideas perfectly lucid, opposing fierce autumn gales with placid stretches of golden leaf-fall for Krylovskiy’s limpid clarinet. The Mazurka contrasted ironic gestures, genteel one moment, ferocious the next. The Zodiac Trio made this delightful, surprising work come alive.
A few nights later at Berklee College’s David Friend Recital Hall, the trio played the program in a different order and added world premieres of pieces by Berklee and Boston Conservatory students. One goal of this happy coalition is to foster future concerts featuring Zodiac Trio and expand the project to include other area schools.
Fred Bouchard writes about music for Downbeat Magazine and All About Jazz, and about wine for Beverage Business; he lectures on jazz at Boston University, and teaches journalism and literature at Berklee College of Music.