in: Reviews

January 24, 2012

Dinosaur Does Contemporary Aesthetics

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Dinosaur Annex’s ninth annual Young Composers Concert, on Sunday, at the Goethe-Institut, presented a curious cross-section of contemporary aesthetics. The concert began with Michael Ippolito’s Nocturne for flute (Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin), violin (Gabriela Diaz), and piano (Yukiko Sekino). From its initial chromatic rise and fall to its sparkling conclusion, his Nocturne traversed the various moods of night, from tranquility touched by dark dissonance to a scurrying, striving activity, accented by trills, and back to a heavy melancholy.

Daniel Kohane’s Obsession possessed similar dark tendencies, but without as much clarity or drive. While the piece centered on an engagingly jagged, percussive piano riff (Sekino) countered by contrasting motifs in the cello (Michael Curry), the initial energy culminated in a breathless, mildly frenzied pile-up of materials before a denouement of twisty melody.

The first half of the concert concluded with Zhou Jing’s trio, Stuck in the Middle, featuring the composer playing the guzheng, a Chinese zither with moveable bridges that facilitate pitch bending. Throughout the work, the guzheng took center stage, with Jing displaying a wonderful range of timbres and techniques on the instrument. Even after the solo that opened the piece, Jing’s masterful playing led the way through the juxtaposition of serene and cacophonous textures. The viola (Anne Black), whose part was adapted from the original erhu (Chinese fiddle) part, adhered most closely to the guzheng’s lead, with portamento in imitation of typical Chinese phrasing, while the clarinet’s lines, played by Katherine Matasy,  provided contrast and a touch of Western aesthetics. While Stuck in the Middle was overall an abstract piece of bold gestures, it was the more serene moments that allowed the audience to fully enjoy the interplay between the instruments.

After intermission, Dinosaur Annex continued the concert with Paul Kerekes’ Hail for flute, cello and piano (Hershman-Tcherepnin, Curry and Sekino). His somewhat minimalist piece was built on a high-register, staccato piano riff that sounded in one variation or another throughout the entire piece. Against the opening piano ostinato, flute and pizzicato cello offered offset rhythms, reminding the listener of the precipitation evoked by the title. As the cello moved from pizzicato to sustained bowed notes, the rhythm of the piano riff was augmented, causing the piece to slow down and mellow as the three instrumental parts came into sync. Yet the ever-present bright timbres and piano pulse never quite let Hail come to rest.

In Transients, Davide Ianni  chamber work for flute, clarinet, and cello (Hershman-Tcherepnin, Matasy and Curry),  he created a powerfully dark, feathery, and breathy sound world from extended instrumental techniques and stabs of unexpected harmonies and melodic fragments. These gestures swung from subtle and airy to piercing and aggressive. While some shifts may have seemed abrupt, Transients displayed an ingenious construction in which sounds emerged from one another or coalesced into fascinating new combinations punctuated by well timed bursts of activity.

Dinosaur Annex concluded their Young Composers Concert with Gabriella Smith’s Away, You Rolling River, for pairs of flutes, clarinets, violas and cellos plus percussion, conducted by Dinosaur’s Co-Music Director Yu-Hui Chang. For each pair of instruments, a core member of the ensemble (Hershman-Tcherepnin, Matasy, Black and Curry, respectively, plus Robert Schulz, percussion) was joined by a student musician from a variety of local high schools. The roster included Molly Lowrie, flute, from the Commonwealth School, Joyce Zhu, from Acton-Boxborough, Lauren Brown, viola from The Rivers School, and Lex Mamuya from Roxbury Latin. This piece’s flowing soundscape was propelled by a muted strumming and percussion groove from which evocative swooping glissando gestures and hints of the folk song Shenandoah emerged. As the piece reached its climax, this tune broke down into rough cries from the winds and a downward slide that slowed until the percussion groove reappeared. As the piece gathered new momentum, Shenandoah made another appearance with fresh timbres. Finally, the percussion faded away, allowing the piece, and the concert as a whole, to come to a gratifying and restful close. Not only was Away, You Rolling River sonically satisfying, but it was adeptly written so as to give both the students and professionals a chance to show off their skill and ingenuity.

Stefanie Lubkowski is a composer and doctoral candidate at Boston University. She is very active in the Boston new music scene and sits on the board of the New Gallery Concert Series.

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