Monadnock Music kicked off its 2012 season in fine fashion Friday evening with a compelling program paying homage to the trailblazing American choreographer Martha Graham. Now in its 47th year, MM has both a new artistic director and a new vision. Gil Rose, former artistic director of Opera Boston as well as the founder of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, took the helm this past February and has crafted a diverse season of both chamber music and opera that significantly broadens the focus of recent years.
Opening Night 2012 took place in the capacious yet intimate confines of the Peterborough, New Hampshire Town House, which features the welcome juxtaposition of elegant historical architecture and very up-to-date conditioned air, not to mention an olde-fashioned ice cream truck at the curb. The latter two were especially appreciated on a rather warm and sultry summer’s evening. A large audience was treated to a four-piece program consisting entirely of works composed within the last 70 years. Three of these compositions were commissioned by Martha Graham; the fourth, created by a current MacDowell Colony Fellow. (In other words, he’s in residence just down the road a piece.)
Diversion of Angels, penned in 1948 by the long-lived American composer Norman Dello Joio (1913-2008), is not particularly well known, though it should be. Despite its title, this work, like all of the pieces on the program, spun a decidedly human tale as it explored the multifaceted (not to mention multicolored) expressions of love: red (erotic), white (balanced), and yellow (adolescent). The soundscape was soothingly consonant; evoked emotions ranged from dark to sensual to downright jumpy. The youthful players of the Monadnock Sinfonietta under the baton of Maestro Rose (who actually conducted sans baton) recreated this music clearly and precisely. Flutist Sarah Brady provided some especially well-crafted and pellucid passages, with pianist Linda Osborn-Blaschke contributing consistently graceful yet powerful underpinnings. Maestro Rose’s relaxed and flowing conducting style seemed to elicit a particularly smooth and silken sound from the instrumentalists.
Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo (born in 1976), currently in residence at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, provided the introductory remarks to his 2000 composition Yueh Fei, Chamber Concerto No. 1 for 8 Players. Based on a folk song depicting the life of Song Dynasty hero Yueh Fei (1103-1141 AD), this piece is an intriguing commingling of Western and Eastern musical vocabularies. It features an ear-tickling array of aural textures that kept percussionist Nick Tolle and his various mallets in perpetual motion as he deftly navigated all manner of drums, gongs, and other percussive paraphernalia. Violinist Charles Dimmock (also concertmaster of BMOP) bent and warped tones with reckless abandon; cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer adroitly fluttered myriad volleys of notes. An admirable and absorbing performance by all of the Sinfonietta players. The real kicker of this composition actually took place near its conclusion, when the instrumentalists had to don their choral caps and vocalize an ethereal series of notes, making for an unexpected and utterly riveting effect. This fascinating piece precipitated a lusty standing-O prior to intermission, compelling the composer to take a well deserved bow.
The second half of the program was actually a recreation of sorts, as the final two pieces, both commissioned by Martha Graham, were first performed on the same evening in October, 1944. Hérodiade of Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) takes as its inspiration an unfinished poem by Stéphane Mallarmé; the subject matter is a dialogue between Salome’s mother Herodias and her nurse — admittedly more than mildly obscure, though the associated music was leagues more accessible. At times Poulencian, at times heroic, this auditory odyssey slowly builds in intensity, though it did seem to drift a bit and was perhaps a tad threadbare in sections. Interesting programmatic connection: Hindemith was actually one of Dello Joio’s composition teachers during the former’s 13-year stay in the U.S. in the 1940s and ‘50s.
Appalachian Spring, the iconic creation of the iconic Aaron Copland (1900-1990), certainly needs no introduction. This musical comfort food features a steady diet of fourths, fifths, and major triads, conjuring up images of wide open plains, simple country folk, and halcyon days gone by, viewing the past through the proverbial rose-colored glasses. (Quite literally in this case, given the evening’s conductor!) For this performance, Maestro Rose opted to present the entire original ballet score, as opposed to the somewhat edited version more commonly heard. Fascinating to pick up on the scattered unfamiliar bits and bobs. Rose and the Sinfonietta players concocted a vivid reading, immaculately rendered in a wash of earth tones. The strings seemed to play and breathe as one in a particularly airtight performance.
Monadnock Music’s next musical voyage has begun on a most successful note. It remains to be seen just what sorts of uncharted musical waters Captain Rose plans to explore.