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Viva Defends Earth Under Attack


Zorana Sadik (David Eyes photo)

Boston Music Viva enacted a virtual Saturday Night Live at Tsai Performance Center as Pittman and his Pierrot ensemble made up of some of Boston’s finest musicians took on the Patriot Act, NEA, the environment, and the moon.

Founder and Music Director Richard Pittman continued celebrating Boston’s foremost contemporary music ensemble’s 50th anniversary in “The Earth, Under Attack.” Past and new commissions from Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Brian Robison, Michael Gandolfi, Deborah-Richard Cornell, and Sebastian Currier journeyed in individual directions. TV news veteran Steve Aveson and contemporary music leading light soprano Zorana Sadiq also raised the ante in Viva’s unusual festivity. Actually, in thinking further, not so unusual, Viva has long played programs of many different sizes and shapes.

A world premiere, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Viva! for the ensemble’s 50th ran just a few minutes. Pittman informed us that her bagatelle referenced two previous works for Viva from the Pulitzer Prize winning composer. Viva! would require a good memory fully to appreciate its foundation. Perhaps a second hearing might lend value.

Given its polemic, Bonfire of the Civil Liberties could offend, especially Texan or Midwestern viewers. The half-hour 2004 commission, despite its political slant, called up memories of 9/11. In those following weeks, the overwhelming sight of an airliner flying over the Hancock and other such images ingrained themselves in the memory.

In the narrator’s role, Steve Aveson perfectly looked and played the part of a 20th-century politician. Two fearsome looking FBI types sporting sunglasses led Vivants—disbelievers—of the ensemble, off the stage one by one by. Finally, the agents escorted a reluctant, triangle-wielding Pittman. The Patriot Act, its shortcomings, its offences to freedom, fueled the piece. Aveson became “musical,” pontificating in an Elmo scene that helped bring the bonfire to a high-pitched affair, but without anyone else on stage.

Brian Robinson’s score involved America’s musical icons,  such as the national anthem, “Yankee Doodle,” and “We Shall Overcome”. A kind of Charles Ives inspired feast of quotes, their selection and orchestration fired on all cylinders, brilliant splicing and coloring throughout.

A response to the NEA’s cuts in the 90s, Michael Gandolfi’s 1995 BMV commission, Budget Cuts, got caught up in itself. His three-movement reaction first, fragmentized a good handful of old chestnuts, second, left me puzzled, and third, drew upon minimalism. This last, “The Ghost of Budget Cuts Future” sparked and sparkled and begged the question: could economic pressures have given rise to Minimalism?

Wind Driven (2014 commission) from Richard and Deborah Cornell re-enlivened “Earth, Under Attack.” Deborah Cornell’s big screen visualizations of “atmospheric pressure…driving air and sea masses, cultures, migrations, and environments” interested the eye, provoked thought, and esthetically enlightened and gratified. Richard Cornell’s score “derived from natural sources—from which the harmonic resonances are built.” Recordings of storms augmented a deftly crafted sonic journey. “Collaboratively, we are interested in both in parallels and points of divergence, in process and approach.”

Sebastian Currier introduced his Eleven Moons, a new commission from BMV. “I wonder, is there anyone who isn’t fascinated by the moon? It has captured the imagination of humankind since our beginnings.” This world premiere featured soprano Zorana Sadiq whose high notes rang out purely, often bell-like, and whose clairvoyant artistry fully humanized and spiritualized the vast compilation of moon musings. Words from Wikipedia, Poe, Neil Armstrong, and the Upanishads all figured in. The word-focused composition held Viva in roles of reflection, commentary, ambiance, and astonishment. Currier assigned mysteriously colored harmonies, some of them teasingly lush, and an overall extra-terrestrial conjuring. Trusting the printed text rather than Sadiq’s enunciation would give raison-d’etre to a kind of evolved Pierrot Lunaire.

Sarah Brady, William Kirkley, Andy Kozar, Geoffrey Burleson, Robert Schultz, Gabriella Diaz, Jan Müller-Szeraws, and Richard Pittman rose to stratospheric enactments of visions from the likes of Robinson, the Cornells, and Currier.

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).

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