in: Reviews

May 13, 2018

For BSCP, Equality in Composers

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Boston Symphony Chamber Players’ Jordan Hall season closed on April 22nd with four attractive pieces representing four different cultural areas: Viennese classical, German Romanticism, French Romanticism, and contemporary American. Half the composers were women.

Three movements from Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces for clarinet, viola, and piano, Opus is an elegant and tuneful work from Bruch’s last years. I have never heard a complete live performance of all eight movements, probably because the relative sameness of the lyric approach might be thought to pall before the end. On this afternoon, movements 5, and 8, surrounded a fast tempo movement 7. The melting sonority of William R Hudgins’s clarinet best characterized the predominate mood, matched effectively by Steven Ansell’s viola and David Deveau’s piano.

Cellist Mihail Jojatu joined with David Deveau in a pair of miniature duo pieces which extraordinarily gifted Lili Boulanger wrote. The first woman to win the Prix de Rome, tragically she died at the age of 25, leaving a small oeuvre. Written separately but fitting together excellently in concert, “Nocturne” and “Cortège,” suggest a contrasting pair, one quietly pensive the other characterized by forward movement. One of the sources of encouragement to the young Lili Boulanger was Gabriel Fauré, whose gently restrained, yet very French, style is evident in this work.

A major score of the Viennese classical era, Mozart’s sunny String Quintet in C Major, K. 515, of 1787, concluded the concert. The elegant and expansive reading by violinists Haldan Martinson and Alexander Velinzon, violists Steven Ansell and Cathy Basrak, and cellist Mihail Jojatu sent the audience away with smiles.

HIlary Scott photo

The highlight of this very enjoyable afternoon had come in the young Chicago-based Stacy Garrop’s Bohemian Café for woodwind quintet and double bass. The commissioner James Ginsburg, president of Cedille records, suggested  this fairly unusual ensemble in celebration of the company’s 25th anniversary. Recalling pleasant visits to Prague, evoking the wind bands of that city, which appeared as buskers playing a wide range of music. Though Garrop had never been to Prague, she found videos of music making and that city and discovered a wide range of musical styles. Certainly, the best known such work in the classical tradition is Dvořák’s wind Serenade, Opus 44, which calls for a larger ensemble of winds but also includes the double bass. Without trying to echo Dvořák in either style or melodic content, she undertook to suggest a range of musical styles mixed in a casual outdoor setting in the Plaza in the Czech city, with a variety of musical styles woven together in rhythmic and lyrical moods. The work was premiered in September 2015 at a party for the anniversary of the record company. The division of responsibility among the instruments allows each to appear showing its strengths, whether in the perky opening section, the playful section suggesting a fresh morning full of birdcalls, the slinky, jazzy section introduced by the clarinet and pizzicato bass, growing to a cheerfully assertive outburst before returning to the playful character of the opening.

Its charming good cheer clearly pleased the audience in Jordan Hall, judging from the number of listeners who made a point of a passing by the composer as intermission began to let her know how much they had enjoyed the piece.

The composer, who has been attracting a considerable amount of attention in recent years, began her life in the Bay Area of California but has spent most of her adulthood in the upper Midwest, studying with Michael Daugherty at the University of Michigan, and with Shulamit Ran at the University of Chicago, before completing her doctorate at Indiana University. She taught between 2000 and 2016 at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University; in the latter year she decided to devote herself full-time to composition. She has in her immediate future a commission for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and has just been named as the first composer invited to take part in a new initiative with the Chicago Opera Theater, with which she will be working from 2018 to 2020 and compose a one-act opera.

Steven Ledbetter is a free-lance writer and lecturer on music. He got his BA from Pomona College and PhD from NYU in Musicology. He taught at Dartmouth College in the 1970s, then became program annotator at the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1997.

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