IN: Reviews

Portrait Concert with Loudspeakers


Roger Reynolds (Malcolm Crowthers photo)

Several themes surfaced at Hydra’s Concert 2, integrity being at the forefront and expressed in a multitude of ways. The Roger Reynolds Portrait Concert, held at Harvard’s Paine Hall on Thursday night, saw a dedicated, if not curious, turnout of folks who appeared to be nearly outnumbered by handful upon handful of various sized black boxes encircling the audience. “I’ve never seen so many speakers in my life!” commented a seasoned listener. Pulitzer Prize holder and Fromm Foundation Visiting Professor Roger Reynolds had us glimpse into his long and prolific life as a composer in a multimedia setting.

Making music “that one is willing to call one’s own” and other words spoken by Reynolds circled and zigzagged the forty speakers of the “orchestra” as it is dubbed by its inventor Hans Tutschku, Fanny P. Mason Professor of Music at Harvard. Following in the tradition of one of his predecessors, Ivan Tcherepnin, founder of the Music Department’s electronic studio in the 1970s, Tutschku preserves openness, and Reynolds was all that. He opened his Portrait Concert by thanking all those associated with his visit at the university then bluntly stated that he intentionally chose to present a program that would “not fit in.” Had I heard him correctly? After all was said and done, his self-portraiture seemed well within the boundlessness that an Ivan Tcherepnin would have embraced. Tcherepnin adored Cage, as does Reynolds, this becoming completely apparent in Reynolds’s artfully staged autobiographical sketch.

Much of Passage 8, as the first half of the program was entitled, would bring back vestiges of the past. I could not help being reminded of John Cage’s visits to Boston, one in particular by the father of silence and indeterminacy in music, his Mureau. Tape recorders placed around a room at Brandeis University played the music in Cage’s readings of Thoreau. Likewise, Reynolds’s words sifted quite mellifluously through the “orchestra’s” luxurious spatial amplification, at times in solo voice, at other times in polyphonies. And what is true of Cage is also true of Reynolds, each has sought out his own voice. Reynolds also told stories about cooking, traveling, and, of course, composing, as did Cage. It might be noted here that no one pulled the plug during Reynolds’s one-hour long Passage 8 as they did on Mureau at Brandeis back in the early 1960s. Cage was pleasantly annoyed responding with, “This is a democracy, if you don’t like it you can leave.” Similarly, before that, someone had pulled the plug on one of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s electronic performances at NEC’s Brown Hall. What was his response? “Sabotage!”

Toward Another World, for solo clarinet and multichannel computer, and the world premiere of imagE/viola found their symbiotic relationship in Passage 8. At intervals between the multimedia storytelling, soloists from the ensemble Alarm Will Sound, Bill Kalinkos, clarinet and John Pickford Richards, viola, sustained a séance-like atmosphere with computer musician Paul Hembree. All three, top-notch in their execution of Reynolds’s demanding scores that are at once super serious and terribly tough to play, maintained that integrity everywhere in evidence during the evening. Neither Reynolds nor his music ever became showy or took easy outs.

Reynolds is predictably unpredictable. Within or beyond immediate reach of the listener, through ambience or atmosphere, there is a personal voice that asserts honesty, veracity, and all this in a “Made in America” way. A caveat: there is also a severity that pervades Reynolds’s world of music-making.

Under the direction of Alan Pierson, the ensemble Alarm Will Sound recreated Reynolds’s SEASONS: Cycle II with soprano and new music devotee Susan Narucki. The six instrumentalists gave an absolutely live-wire performance that brought well-deserved rounds of applause from a truly appreciative and obviously knowledgeable band of listeners.

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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  1. Celebration of Roger Reynolds continues at New England Conservatory on December 11:

    Comment by Rob Schmieder — December 10, 2012 at 10:41 am

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