in: Reviews

April 18, 2015

Christopher LaRosa: Entrepreneurial Composer


Christopher La Rosa

Christopher La Rosa

Young Boston-area players performed a broad range of instrumental and vocal works by the up-and-coming BU composer Christopher LaRosa Friday night at the United Church of Brookline, virtually rattling the stained-glass windows and prompting much whooping by his BU comrades in the audience.

“The Music of Christopher LaRosa”, displayed what seemed like the full range of the composer’s compositional grasp, an oeuvre that seems extraordinarily mature for the boyish 24-year-old just finishing his master’s degree at BU. His disparate works for piano, strings, voice and flute are fully-developed and contemporary, yet accessible. He says he and his musicians are “committed to enlivening the art” of music performance. “I strive to communicate with my musicians and audiences through a music that provokes, challenges, and evokes meaning.” That’s precisely what he did Friday night.

Cayuga, a piano-violin-cello trio that featured LaRosa at the keyboard had been performed at Tanglewood last year to great acclaim. Inspired by a near-death experience in his childhood, Cayuga began with a water-evoking pianissimo on the keyboard, giving way to Klaudia Szlachta’s sensitive violin and Hyun-Ji Kwon’s sensuous cello. The two strings engage in a dialogue, with the piano shifting from accompaniment to its own contribution. The momentum builds steadily, reaching a memorable passage of considerable violence. Finally, the piano returns to the opening figure, bringing back a watery view.

The timely programming of Spring Giddiness followed, soprano Alexandra Harvey singing with bell-like clarity to LaRosa’s accompaniment. Taken from a text by 13th century mystic poet Rami, Harvey sang:

Don’t open the door to the study
And begin reading. Take down a musical instrument,
Let the beauty we love do what we do.

Something of a personal statement by LaRosa, several works were based on stories and poetry from his grandparents and great-grandparents. He began composing at the age of eight, after his grandmother suggested it. “If it were not for her, I might never have picked up a pencil and written that first composition—she truly gave birth to my creativity,” he wrote.

In his Songs for Nana, the 12-voice LaRosa Chamber Choir performed the sometimes humorous lines in close harmony that lead to an end-of-life description. In the final stanzas, the singers left the stage in twos or threes. Finally even the deeply involved and demonstrative conductor, Sam Kjellberg, made his exit, stranding tenor Trey Pratt alone on stage, singing:

Alas when prepared to part,
Will I bid farewell forever
The sunshine of my heart?

LaRosa’s most dramatic touch had Pratt descend the stage and leave via the main aisle as the other voices reunited offstage, quietly backing up his solo. The effect was eerie and moving.

Pianist Tom Weaver performed the composer’s Passacaglia, a world premiere virtuoso solo that has an identity all its own, calling on continuous keyboard leaps and trills that move inexorably toward a clamorous ending. Weaver was in complete control of the music and gave it the exuberance LaRosa intended.

Jennifer Davis took center stage for a flute solo, Mythologies, inspired by stories of Hugin and Munin, birds from Norse folk tales. Davis smoothly rendered the conversation between the two birds, written as a “figurative dialogue between thought and memory,” the translation of the birds’ names.

The double quartet of the LaRosa Chamber Players gave Symmetries, with conductor Patrick Valentino in clear control of the complex and boisterous closer, which came with a warning that the quartets can “rapidly become entangled with one another.” Again as a demonstration of LaRosa’s range, the ensemble meticulously displayed the composition’s “variety of musical parameters,” including orchestration, timbre, texture, form and pitch. LaRosa says the second movement was influenced by the concept of fractals, organizing “multiple levels of symmetry into a hierarchic layering of nested reflective patterns.” The third and final movement, imitating life’s contradictions, closes with a devastating clash.

The entrepreneurial composer completes his BU degree this term and will go on to work for a doctorate at Indiana University. He told me after the concert that he already knows he will focus his musical life on composing.

Michael Johnson is a former Moscow correspondent who has written on music for the International New York Times, Clavier Companion, and other publications. He divides his time between Bordeaux and Brookline.

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