IN: Reviews

New Music Well Assorted


Inman Square’s DIY space, the Lily Pad, was the locale for an enjoyable and imaginative new music concert last night, “Targeted” by Equilibrium (EQ), an organization now in its second season devoted to presenting “a wide array of inspiring concerts to the greater Boston music-loving community.” The individuals at EQ take care in their programming for their many concerts each season, showcasing new works and often drawing upon local talent, while insightfully choosing pieces that work well together. Last night’s concert was a commendable example.

The evening focused on three brief song cycles by Masaki J. Hasebe based on texts by Akiko Yosano entitled Mi-da-re-ga-mi Nos. 1-3, which were interspersed throughout the night. The first Mi-da-re-ga-mi (Japanese for tangled hair) set five Tanka poems (31 syllables arranged 5-7-5-7-7) for piano and soprano. The poems use hair mostly as a vessel for self-reflection, often wistfully looking back at one’s youth. Hasebe’s sense of melody reflected this. For instance, in the fifth poem the large jumps, displaying soprano Aliana de la Guardia’s range, evoke in the singer an urge to suppress her jealousy as she sings “that girl at twenty / her black hair ripples / through the comb / in the pride of spring / such beauty!”

Local composer Keith Kusterer’s Études Photographiques started with a bang—or rather a snap—like a photograph being taken. Written as a “sonic study of the basic photographic experience,” this chamber piece was contained many snaps, followed by quietly meandering passages from cello, violin, and clarinet. The chiming in the piano was analogous to searching for a subject, while glissandi in the violin and cello brought to mind focusing of the lens. Then often came a brief pause — followed by the inevitable snap!

Mi-da-re-ga-mi No. 2 for violin and soprano followed with an impressive display from both Natalie Calma (violin) and Aliana de la Guardia (soprano). The creative writing from Hasebe reflected the conflicting feelings in each poem. The playful pizzicatos in the second poem were overcome by de la Guardia’s exceptional high range as she sings “bright bright red!” The third poem, evoking images of a funeral service, contained falling laments in the vocals and a stifled energy in the violin. This second chapter of the song cycle whetted my appetite for the upcoming third.

Before that third episode, however, Andy Costello performed two works. Raindownriver was an excerpt from Boston-based Andy Vores’s Preludes, written as a counterpart to Debussy’s. The connections took on many forms, direct or contrary, musical or technical. Indeed, some harmonies did evoke Debussyan exoticism, and heavy sustain pedal induced the blurriness of impressionistic music. It was a unique and beautiful piece on this already varied program. Costello followed it with a rendition of the third movement of Charles Ives’s Piano Sonata 2, the “Concord.” Each movement is dedicated to an American writer for whom Ives also wrote an essay. It is humorously noted in the score that these prefatory essays “were written by the composer for those who can’t stand his music—and the music for those who can’t stand his essays.” Costello took the liberty to combine the essay dedicated to Bronson Alcott with the music of the same. He read aloud from the essay as he traversed his way through the third movement. It was an interesting experiment, but music and essay existed on different planes and would not always line up. Costello’s execution was impressive, but the music seemed to suffer slightly from the reading and essay seemed to suffer slightly from the playing.

Masaki J. Hasebe’s third and final chapter of the evening was for soprano and percussion. The interesting timbres of the percussion, with harmonic material mostly from the vibraphone, worked surprisingly well with de la Guardia’s vocals. There was a distinct change of tone in this set of poems on loneliness. The cutting transients of the percussion acted as a foil to de la Guardia’s despondent wail, in accord with the “autumn ephemeral” and the “spring short lived.”

Steeped in the harmonies of jazz, with rapid shifts in style, Links No. 1 by American composer Stuart Saunders Smith displayed the virtuosity of percussionist Masako Kunimoto. The handling of brisk improvisatory-sounding outbursts and quick changes in dynamics and character showcased her talent.

Keeril Maakan’s Target , the final piece of the evening, “a political commentary on U.S. military intervention abroad” was commissioned by Carnegie Hall through the Weill Music Institute, and once again featured Aliana de la Guardia, this time backed by a small chamber group. The text is based partly on the poetry of Jena Osman and partly on U.S. military leaflets dropped on Afghanistan after 9/11. Each movement has a vastly different sound and de la Guardia did an astonishing job embodying the roles. Whether she was trying to sell the text, in a grossly simplistic, singsong manner or singing with mechanistic grimness, she translated the meaning of each movement by applying strikingly different vocal qualities. The ensemble, led by conductor Matt Sharrock, was also able to convey these ideas successfully, often through extended techniques.

At the beginning of the evening, artistic director Mischa Salkind-Pearl gave a brief talk about how this varied concert came about. The program’s common threads, Salkind-Pearl explained, included a “down-to-earth” quality and associations with American vernacular. While the connections weren’t always obvious, there was a visceral nature to all of the evening’s musics, which connected them. EQ continues to inspire, providing opportunities for musicians, composers, and concertgoers alike. In only their second season, they have already hosted 17 concerts with 36 premieres.

Nolan Eley has a Bachelor of Music from Berklee College of Music.  As a composer, he has scored several films and conducted original works in the Czech Republic, Austria, U.S. and China.


3 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. This is spectacular. Go, EQ!

    Comment by Sarah Darling — April 29, 2013 at 2:00 pm

  2. I assume it is worth mentioning that Keeril Makan is the composer of “Target”. Bravo, EQ!

    Comment by Chris Watford — April 29, 2013 at 7:11 pm

  3. Yes, Keeril is worth mentioning- thanks.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — April 29, 2013 at 7:15 pm

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