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A New Vision with Juventas

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Oliver Caplan (file photo)

A room full of vibrant composers, musicians, and listeners filled First Church in Boston with chatter Saturday as we awaited Juventas New Music Ensemble’s “Voices of America,” a showcase of new music focusing on young immigrant composers. Wearing an American flag bow tie, artistic director Oliver Caplan spoke about how the concert aimed to highlight the voices and contributions of immigrants and their experiences in America. “Our Forefathers (and foremothers) envisioned our nation as a beacon of liberty, a place where anyone would be welcome.” Thereafter, we were transported from melancholic moments of longing, to moments filled with hopeful waves of optimism, ushered in by a clean and well-rehearsed ensemble that successfully paid tribute to the delicacies of each composer’s deeply personal and unique work. Juventus truly embodies the collective spirit of liberty through expression. In black with splashes of red dancing out here and there, they also looked great!

The concert featured new works from seven composers from all over the world, six of whom were in attendance, which made the evening even more special as we were able to hear directly from the composers before each piece.

Mari Kotskyy from Hokkaido, an island in Northernmost Japan, was on hand for the premiere of Reminiscence, which highlighted her homesickness upon her emigrating to New York City. As beautiful lyrical passages emerged from the strings, interrupted by moments of dissonant harmonies driven forward by the piano, it ebbed and flowed onwards, each phrase a wave of emotion, each ushering in more moments of bliss, reminiscent of Boston based composer Artur Foote’s piano trios (according to my seatmate Roger Howlett). Nebal Maysaud’s somber work for voice and piano followed. A Washington D.C based composer born of Lebanese immigrants, his Song for a Small Guest is an intimate and personal expression of being middle eastern in America. In part for Alan Kurdi, a young Kurdish boy who’s passing gave way to a mass of media sensationalism. Jennifer Kwon Dobbs words spilled out between low oscillating left hand of the piano and the dissonant right hand playing eerie but beautifully phrased atonal passages. The absence of the mid-range gave a sense of emptiness and space amidst the hard-hitting text, creating a beautifully introspective journey that truly envelopes the listener and leaves one with a sense of sorrow and renews the need introspection on the part of the listener.

Tatev Amiryan’s Retro Non entered slowly and cinematically, with beautiful melodic passages rumbling from the strings. Modal harmonies paid tribute to Amiryan’s Armenian heritage as the work becomes increasingly dissonant and Bartokian, individual motives converge into a restatement of earlier melodic themes, leaving us with a new sense of longing, different from before, but deep and profound in its expression.

A two-scene preview of a new opera I am a Dreamer who no longer Dreams by Jorge Sosa to a libretto by Cerise Lim Jacobs closed the first half. The opera follows two migrants (Mexico/Singapore) and journeys back to their respective pasts and their need for migration, telling of the sacrifice’s families make every day in search of a better future. The slightly more robust ensemble started with vigor. Soprano Kelley Hollis and mezzo-soprano Rebecca Krouner sang in tandem, leading such different lives yet connected by the same struggles. The musicians change gear and enter a staccato section, Nate Tucker doing a fine job on percussion, until a sense of hushed anxiety enters with waves of long atonal harmonies brought forward by the strings, finally; a return of gusto brings this wonderful preview to a close, giving us a fantastic preview of a fresh new work premiering at the Emerson Paramount Theater on September 20th.

A scene from Justin Giarrusso’s A World Apart (2017) entitled “I Never See the Sun” shed light on the intersection between marriage equality and immigration. This aria is sung by Blanca, who has been separated from her partner Elizabeth, and their child. Shifting winds enter creating an ethereal hollow space, under which agitated keys ring out, interrupted finally by a beautiful sweeping melody played with grace by Minjin Chung on the Cello, backed up and brought to life by the winds and violinist Ryan Shannon, the ensemble really came to life and created the space for returning soprano Kelley Hollis to truly portray the heartfelt longing for loved ones, felt by those who are forced apart by circumstances of immigration. It ends with a series of harmonics until a lonely note on the piano lays the piece to rest.

Chinese poems carved into walls on Angel island, the detention center where specifically Chinese immigrants were detained and interrogated, inspired Ursula Kwong-Brown’s Cover the Walls, coming in another world premiere. After a stately opening, it crescendos with full force ushering in frantic moments that burst in and out to accompany the series of bells and chimes ringing out from the percussion section. Steady low notes drove the work forward, aided by the winds and made even more robust by a stellar Anne Howarth on French horn and Pete Walsh on bass. Tianhui Ng led the entire second half with gusto and control.

 The New Colossus by Juventas’s artistic director Oliver Caplan celebrates the Statue of Liberty and its embodiment of freedom and liberty, evoking the towering presence of Colossus of Rhodes. The New Colossus celebrates freedom as an inclusive voice of expression among all people; it gave a very fitting closing to the evening. A patriotic opening towered over us, glory and virtue radiate from the ensemble, thematically reminiscent of Robert Beaser’s Mountain Songs for flute and guitar. The all-American themes merge into a gentle passage, possibly representing the New Colossus with an empathetic and peaceful canvas of sound coming from the stage. The Juventas Ensemble impressed with an all-around fantastic and relevant concert, clearly put together and presented with authority and charm, Bravo!

Classical guitarist, composer, and audio engineer, Carl Straussner completed his master’s degree in classical guitar performance under Eliot Fisk. He’s likely to be arranging show tunes for big bands, composing music for animations, directing and producing radio documentaries.

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