Attending a performance of the Equilibrium Concert Series, it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed by the same bright-eyed optimism endemic to late-night dorm room discussions. In their own words, Equilibrium “operates on the idea that modern and contemporary classical music need not exist solely for an audience of connoisseurs.” The newly formed concert series is dedicated to performing the music of young Boston composers to Boston audiences.
And why not? In a city as full of musical education such as Boston, perhaps is something more than possible — it’s something that’s needed, certainly if attendance is any indication: the evening of Thursday, May 19, marked the inaugural program of the newly formed concert series in a packed main stage theater at 31 Hemenway Street, Boston Conservatory.
Three works in the first half of the program are by recent alumni from the Conservatory. Mischa Salkind-Pearl’s I ain’t gonna be worried no more (2010), performed by Natalie Calma (violin) and Matta Sharrock (marimba), is an introverted exploration of the pairing of the sound-world created by the two performers fully dedicated to the composer’s vision, from strong, unison delineation of melodic lines at times to subtle, muted pairings at the extreme ranges of both instruments.
Masaki Hasebe’s Mi-da-re-ga-mi no.2 (2011) was performed by soprano Anna Ward and Morgan Evans-Weiler on violin. The combination of violin and treble voice is an unusual one, making for a spare piece. It occupied a narrow tonal space that relied much on the absence of sound. Although it was easy to appreciate Ward’s generous tone, the Japanese text was perhaps a impractical decision on the part of the composer — a lack of diction (combined with no printed text or translation in the program notes) made the work difficult to grasp.
In contrast to the first two pieces, Doug McCulloch’s Thus (2010), a solo work performed by flutist Bethanne Walker, presented a more affable soundscape, engaging the audience with recurring motifs and themes throughout the piece. Walker, as all performers, was completely engaged with the music, presenting McCulloch’s work in a dynamic tone that maintained drama while keeping an ear to the sensibilities of the composer’s direction. McCulloch, unlike the other three young composers, received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Hawaii.
Matt Sharrock returned to the marimba for Chris Coughlin’s Persephone as Kore ‘Soliloquium for marimba” (2011), the first part of an engaging work illustrating the ancient Greek myth of Persephone’s descent into Hades. Sharrock’s dynamic illustration of the drama of Coughlin’s work was more than impressive here — negotiating labyrinthine solo writing for the entire range of the instrument with an intense directness that brought Coughlin’s work to life.
The evening concluded with a performance of Arnold Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (Op. 21). Conductor Russell Ger, on the faculty of Boston Conservatory, introduced the piece, placing it in historical context with well-prepared notes. Ger’s ultimate exhortation to give way to not only to the humor but the deep expression of the work turned out to be unnecessary. Both laughter and rapt attention percolated through the audience as Ger led the small ensemble (Bethanne Walker, flute, Kevin Price, clarinet, Natalie Calma, violin, Helen Hess, viola, Christopher Homick, cello, Joseph Turbessi, piano and Anna Ward, soprano) in an electrifying performance of the German Expressionist cabaret-song cycle. Although balance sometimes proved to be an issue, Ward’s performance negotiated Schönberg’s often treacherous sprechstimme with a warm tone and a flexible inflection that revealed Pierrot’s inner psychology and Schönberg’s vivid drama.
It’s hard to shake the sense of having participated in something very private on Thursday night — something akin to the Second Viennese School’s Society for Private Musical Concerts. Although to view it that way is also to completely miss the point. To bring new and sometimes experimental music to popular hearing is not only a service to the people who compose such works, but, more importantly, helps engage us, as audience members, in the current conversations prevalent in today’s music. An intimate gathering on Thursday evening, the entire audience rewarded the evening’s performer with no less than four rounds of applause, a certain validation to the accessibility of the Equilibirium Concert Series’s very necessary undertaking.
Sudeep Agarwala is a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He performs with various groups throughout Boston and Cambridge.