Thursday night’s concert at the Community Music Center of Boston was event #2 of “The Year of Roving.” Its offbeat theme was “DOODLE,” and the artwork by Tessa Day was quite amazing to anyone whose children have ever tinkered with a Magna Doodle. My son went through 27 of these contraptions, and nothing he did ever approached the startling artwork created on a tiny Magna Doodle and then photographed by Ms. Day. I was deeply impressed and moved by her extraordinary doodles created on a toy. Brava to Tessa Day!!!
The ingenious founding director of the New Gallery Concert Series, gifted pianist Sarah Bob, has run one of the city’s ambitious and delightful music-and-art series for several years, and she and her musicians and artists show no signs of running out of serious talent and imagination.
The concert itself was a mixed affair: two solo artists performed perilously difficult works at the beginning and end, sandwiching two lovely pieces for viola, piano and percussion. The opening piece was a curiosity. I had heard of F. Murray Schafer’s (b. 1933) The Crown of Ariadne but had never heard — or heard of — a live performance of it. It will be a required piece on the upcoming Israel Harp Contest, so a few brave people will learn it, but until then Ina Zdorovetchi’s performance will set the bar very high for those contestants. Written for the renowned Canadian harpist, Judy Loman, The Crown of Ariadne Suite for Harp, Percussion and Tape (1979) is a six-movement tour de force. Ms. Zdorovetchi got hold of the music three weeks ago and played it like she had had months to work out its many technical difficulties. A longtime member of BMOP (a double concerto commissioned for her and cellist Holgen Gjoni is in the works for next fall), Ms. Zdorovechi is no stranger to modern music, but she is also completely at home with Bach, which I have heard her play with great elegance.
The harp here was surrounded by an artillery of atmospheric percussion — a bell tree, crotales, suspended cymbals, bongos, and wood blocks. Mr. Schafer really took the trouble to find out what a harp can do, and he used his learning to brilliant effect (it helps to have had Ina, a spectacular harpist). There were vibrato effects caused by pulling the string under the top notch at the highest spot, countless harmonics (not one missed) scordatura, putting bells on her ankles to they would jingle as the feet beat out complicated rhythms, in the second movement, hitting the soundboard while playing with the right hand, and lots and lots of fast playing. There were pedal glissandi, fast stretches of double octaves (not fun; buzzing is a worry), and playing (in the last movement) with a tape of herself, full of echoes. I was, quite simply, in awe. Dazzling.
The two pieces for viola, piano (the admirable Sara Bob), and percussion (Aaron Trant) were very lovely and beautifully played. Mark Berger (b.1977) played a double role in the next piece as composer and violist. He explained that his piece, Kaleidoscope for viola, piano and percussion (2011) originated as a commission by Middlesex Community College with the stipulation that he tie it into the concept of environmental sustainability. (I am not kidding). So, he devised the solution: to “recycle” a piece of older music, in this case, J. S. Bach’s Sarabande from the Fifth Suite for Solo Violoncello. “I was interested in putting Bach’s music under the microscope to find new materials to explore…Bach is rendered completely unrecognizable.” And so it was, but I found Berger’s piece in its world premiere really pleasurable to hear. The next piece, after a long intermission (a great time to ask questions of the Magna Doodle artist) was also a world premier, dedicated to Ms. Bob and Mr. Trant. Frozen Junctions for viola, piano and percussion (2009) by Lior Navok (b. 1971) was a perfect companion piece to Mr. Berger’s, and both of these pieces were given the kind of performance a composer hopes for.
Finally, George Aperghi’s Recitations was sung, whispered, whimpered, and babbled by the intrepid soprano Jennifer Ashe. His score, the program notes said, look like doodles. What these fourteen brief movements sound like is another story. I think this is the kind of piece that really divides an audience — some love it, some find five minutes of it headache-inducing and wonder how the soprano keeps going. In her own way, Ms. Ashe had to go through as many hoops as Ms. Zdorovechi did earlier. The piece was a monodrama of what struck me as a madwoman whose fractured personality wass going to very audible pieces as we stood by in horror. There were peals of crazed laughter mixed with anger, rage, and babbling in no particular language, then some French, cries, lots of intakes of breath, calm talk escalating into superfast babbling, and talking punctuated by very high sung notes, followed by lots of “ha ha ha ha.” Personality changes took place every few seconds. Several people stood cheering at the conclusion. I sat morosely, wondering if Ms. Ashe actually enjoyed putting herself through these bizarre paces. In any case, she did it all very convincingly.