IN: Reviews

Four Friends and More of the Fifth Floor


“In Absentia” is the title for The Fifth Floor Collective’s first concert of their second season. No, it was not a 4’33” kind of affair “in room 401 at the Boston Conservatory” on Friday, October 21st. “New music, new people” reads a heading in the website for The Friends of the Fifth Floor, an organization  that encourages the creation and performance of new music—and the notion of “friends” creating, performing, and listening.

Composer Patrick Greene was on hand to introduce his piece, his setting of the poem Ferncliff by Hugh Ogden. Greene’s setting , he told us, was a thoughtful salute to the poet and professor with whom he studied during a semester at Trinity College. What was presented on the program was “an excerpted piano reduction of a much larger work for full choir and orchestra commissioned by the Trinity College Department of Music.”

The poem begins “When I was young I knew an older woman” and continues, relating memories, as did the five-minute excerpt performed by soprano Erin Merceruio and pianist Nicholas Place. Here, certainly displayed with true musicality, were the young composer’s memories of melodic narrative and dramatic feel. If too much vibrato interfered with Merceruio’s diction, Place’s piano caught the composer’s stylistic reminiscences to a tee.

Joseph M. Colombo’s Angles and Axes, scored for horn and viola, ventured out with long and sustained tones blown against graph-like glissandi and higher velocity motives bowed with full thrust. The composer wrote, “Both movements deal with music through the concepts of gesture and the build up [sic] and release of energy.” I would urge Colombo, currently pursuing a Master’s [sic] degree at the San Francisco Conservatory, to put aside shop talk and perhaps check on details in his description of his work.

Megan Riccio, horn, and Deborah Apple, viola, gestured, built up, and released energy convincingly while at the same time becoming the center of attention, so engaged and vibrant—sometimes brightly, sometimes darkly—was their playing. Amidst the perpetual and other forms of motion generated by Colombo, silence also came into play, and when it did, there could be heard the ubiquitous mechanical, 60-cycle hum imposed upon the otherwise impressive new performance space at the conservatory.

An incomplete performance of Violin Sonata No. 1 by Matthew Barnson was next on the intermission-less, one-hour concert. Due to challenging speeds and techniques, one of the movements (sections?) was omitted. Moments of originality surfaced in the slower tempos through textural and timbral ideas. The 32-year-old composer and string player lists a considerable number of awards and honors as well as composition teachers, among them, Christopher Rouse and Augusta Read Thomas.

The opening of the sonata lifted upward through welcome lightness and atmosphere. Kenneth Siu-hang Mok and Joseph Turbessi on violin and piano respectively very nicely colorized an already appealing score. Later, though, the violin’s tuning and bowing affected Barnson’s discerning writing. Program notes about the composition’s movements or sections would have helped. As the reader can see, I have been vague when it comes to such.

In introducing his music, In Absentia, Andrew Paul Jackson gave a warm welcome, calling the fifty or so of us in the audience, “Friends.” We sat in several long rows of seats that took up no more than a fourth of the spacious high-ceilinged room leaving the performers in an island-like “surround-space” the likes of which I have never quite experienced before.

This situation, though, would be modified as an ensemble of six instrumentalists and one vocalist assembled before its conductor, Matt Sharrock (a graduate of Boston Conservatory in percussion.) A big blast issued forth from the horn quite often with the guitar occasionally peeking through the traditional instrumentation, producing a maze of sound that at times interacted with and at other times backed soprano Merceruio. Everyone in the ensemble dedicated themselves to Jackson’s setting of the poem, “To My Widow, On Her 90th Birthday” by Gretl Satorius: Emily Wilson, flute, Amy Gollins, oboe, Megan Riccio, horn, Andy Hanson-Dvoracek, guitar, Deborah Apple, viola, and Nicholas Place, piano.

All in all, the event was a short, welcoming, friendly, and youthful work-in-progress.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in  Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.

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