“Moonlight (and a) Serenade,” the final show of the season for Boston Musica Viva took place Saturday night at Pickman Hall in the Longy School of Music at Bard College, proving once again once again how well the ensemble engages with extremely difficult and incredibly varied music. Under conductor Richard Pittman, Ann Bobo on flute (with piccolo doubling), William Kirkley on clarinet (with bass clarinet doubling), Bayla Keyes on violin, Jan Muller-Szeraws on cello, Geoffrey Burleson on piano, and Robert Schulz manning the percussion gave fine renditions of works by Richard Festinger, Barbara White, Yehudi Wyner, and Ronald Perera, who were all in attendance.
Serenade for Six by Richard Festinger contains references to Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro in the final movement, which came across subtly. Overall, the orchestration remained vibrant, though on occasion it fell back into a few straightforward families (strings with strings, winds with winds) with little crossover. The material more than made up for it, being both new and accessible. Festinger’s restraint on dynamics across the entire ensemble allowed the individuals to blend well while allowing individuals to emerge. The Serenade cleverly employed the full sound of the Pierrot ensemble as a homogenous unit.
Barbara White’s My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon remained heavily reliant on the resonance found in the piano, going so far as to resurrect the new-music cliché of playing an instrument (in this case the flute) into the piano to cause the strings to resonate with its sound. Members of the ensemble effectively dovetailed their sounds with the dominating piano lines, holding various harmonies to strengthen the base bass? for more-active lines. The result: everything seemed to come out from the piano. White allowed as how the core of her concept was impermanence and understanding—coming to terms with how everything around us is fleeting.
Yehudi Wyner’s new Concertino was the main event. Written for Geoffrey Burleson and BMV on a grant from the Fromm Foundation, Concertino remained a puzzle. Wyner explained in his comments (it was performed twice—a Boston Musica Viva tradition, if there is space on the program) that he both a reorchestred and a recomposed a series of preludes he had written earlier this year. In the first movement, the piano and the rest of the ensemble acted mostly in orchestrational isolation with minimal crossover. The texture always had hints of pianistic writing, regardless of how the material migrated to flute, clarinet, violin, or cello. Concertino really began to expand on its sound worlds in the following movements, however. Eventually the clearly defined line between soloist and ensemble began to blur, allowing, for example, the violin and cello to color lines conveyed by skillful pianist Burleson.
Crossing the Meridian (1982) by Ronald Perera is a Boston Musica Viva commission and staple; the group has recorded it. Vocalist Charles Blandy embodied both the uncertainty and the acceptance of the text extremely effectively. In the opening movement, July 18, 1846, “Crossing the Great Divide,” on a text by Ruth Whitman, and the last movement, “Math” from the words of James Dickey, tonal references made the work falter slightly. Where reacting to text and painted subtext in the Pierrot ensemble’s colors, it proved quite convincing. The first movement’s tonal references also strained against the expressive quality of the material, holding it back and preventing it from interacting effectively with the tenor. The final movement benefited from Perera’s using a nonstandard, non-tonal pitch collection with a hint of centricity. The middle movements, “That Sensual Phosphorescence” (Lawrence Ferlinghetti), “Meticulous, Past Midnight” (Hart Crane) and “Danse Russe” (William Carlos Williams), eschewed the tonal references and pared the ensemble back to subsets, two of which focus on winds and percussion and one which focuses heavily on the embedded piano quartet in the ensemble (the piece calls for a viola to be added to the Pierrot ensemble, played by Noriko Futagami). Since tonal reference was mostly absent, the text painting could be better achieved.
In its 45th year, Boston Musica Viva still has a finger on the pulse of new music.
Ian Wiese is a graduate student in composition at the New England Conservatory.