Young and passionate musicians known as FONEMA CONSORT gave it their all. In collaboration with the Group for Latin American Music (GLAM), FONEMA rendered works by composers from Mexico, Ecuador, and Costa Rica in Paine Hall last night. Just knowing that much you might well have wanted to be there, curious as to what has been going on in those countries these days. Well, for starters, search as I could with my ears, where were those cultures vis-à-vis this music? The evening’s fare really was a continuation of what we once thought of as the avant-garde. Blasting, thrashing, distressing cries from a flute, clarinet, piano, and voice said little more than “been there, done that.”
If there were any seizeable moments they were to come from a harpsichord’s surges syntactically formed, these out of a chamber piece by Ecuadorian Juan Campoverde. Later, a big accented downbeat from the bass clarinet followed on the tail of an especially sizeable surge, making for a point of arrival, a feeling of a destination reached. How satisfying that was. It was much like that of finding an oasis in the midst of a desert.
Most of the evening might have left you in the dark. Program notes were minimal, however, that would not have prevented a music devotee from “getting it.” In fact, that the audience could find its own way by simply listening is a feather in the hat of the program’s planners. Literally, though, the audience, a slim one at that, was cast into darkness, a throwback to the quasi ritualized events already peaking as far back as the mid-late 20th century.
Imagine very little lighting on stage, two musicians, one from stage left and the other, right, slowly walking toward each other trancelike. They breathe audibly. They exchange a few isolated vocalized utterances. They pick up Tibetan singing bowls and tap them. To end their séance, they stand entranced for some time by a rattling type of sound. That was Lamentos y reflejos of Mexico’s Valeria Jonard.
Costa Rica’s Pablo Santiago Chin created 7 Voice Studies on Chapter 3—did that title help anyone? FONEMA CONSORT’s vocalist was featured as soloist. Who she is we do not know, leaving us once more in the dark, but do you suppose that was the intent of these fresh, fervent avant-gardistas? Chin’s studies were made up of vignettes, each mounting in distress starting with whimpers, moving on to cries, then, for the climax, arms flailing and some hair pulling, and finally, screams. The vocalizations kept reminding me in ways of Cathy Berberian in Luciano Berio’s Circles dating from 1960.
Chin’s Three Burials for flute and video contrasted quiet imagery with flutings that could be construed as the tortured wind or maybe an altogether grief-stricken bird. For the middle burial, only video, and for outer two burials, it appeared that the same graphics (my surmise) were at play with the three burials resulting in an A B A structure, and with one A reflecting the other A as do those funny mirrors at circuses.
This year’s invited composer of the Barwick Colloquium Series at the Harvard Music Department is Julio Estrada. All three works on the program of the Mexican composer, theoretician, historian, pedagogue, and interpreter received highly spirited performances. Canto tejido for piano doted on one single note to another in simple time with warm touches veering toward abstractness.
Yuunohui’Tiapoa’Ehecati for clarinet and piano, as with most of the pieces on the concert, remained primal, inarticulate, aiming at bypassing what is civil. That attitude prevailed in Estrada’s Yuunohui’Ehecatu for flute. Three double-sized stands held the score. What the flutist saw could not have resembled a traditional score with a staff and so on. This piece explored “new concepts of what Julio calls ‘macro-timbre’ as well as new graphic forms of musical notation.”
The concert was presented by the Harvard Music Department and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies in co-sponsorship with the Instituto Cervantes Observatory at Harvard University and the Leonore Annenberg Foundation.
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. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer). www.notescape.net