IN: Reviews

 “By Fire and Sword” at Longy

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Trevor Weston (Julie Ingelfinger photo)

Castle of Our Skin’s “Portrait of Composer Trevor Weston,” subtitled “By Fire and Sword,” brought affects extending beyond those descriptors to include soft and cloudy waftings, dreams and love to Longy last night. Weston and his music are exciting, insightful, accessible and connected

The appetizer, Wafting Clouds (2010), sounded with the light, contoured phrasing of pianist Sarah Bob, currently visiting faculty at Longy and The Music Mansion’s 2019 Artist-in-Residence. Weston (who penned the program notes) writes that in this piece he aimed “to create a piano work that explored different piano timbres with one player: a duet for tre corde and una corda piano,” evincing a cloud and its shadow traversing the countryside. Hearing this one of 12 brief bon mots of incidental music created for a theater production at Drew University left me wanting to hear the other 11.

While an undergraduate student at Tufts, Weston was enthralled by a 12th-century statue of the Buddhist deity Fudo Myoo, at the MFA. Depicted as focused, wrathful and imposing, with a sword in his right hand and fire surrounding, the statue conveyed to young Weston a sense of righteousness without violence. Fudo Myoo, the string quartet (2012) that ultimately emerged, starts with pulsing energy, moving after a minute or so to pizzicato, often pentatonic and ends with a sense of resolution without war—sighing stringed bowing and conversation. Gabriela Diaz, Mina Lavcheva (violins), Ashleigh Gordon (viola—and also Artistic/Executive Director of Castle), and Francesca McNeely (cello) played Fudo Myoo with concentrated verve.

African American women who lived in or were connected to Charleston over the century before the songs were written—Georgia Douglass Johnson, Mary Weston Fordham, Angelina Weld Grimke and Hermine Stanyard, thinking about love, peace, connections—impelled Weston’s Evening Songs (2001). The accomplished tenor Ron Williams’s voice fit the music and poetry. While I’d wondered about having a male voice enunciate the verses of women, the performance allayed my concerns. Bob collaborated with sensitive aptness.

Bob played Eurythmy Variations fittingly—showing its underlying principle—based on excerpts from Vitruvius, an ancient Roman architect, who considered eurythmy as “harmony in the proportions of the building.” According to Weston, who has, he says, long been drawn to the connection between architecture and music, the work evolved from its initial intent as an étude on chord progression.  It begins as a dreamy series of chord progressions, followed by alternating quiet and pulsating variations.

Soprano Sigourney Cook sang the complicated “Renouveler” from Songs for the Anonymous with delicacy, blending medieval and modern elements. Cook has a clear, expressive voice well-suited the composer’s intent.

The concert climaxed with Juba (2017), a string quartet that evokes the harrowing African odyssey from West Africa to the Americas, the life of slaves in the South, by combining African melodies and traditions with African-American folk music—including fiddles, hymns and Gullah.  The melding of melody and foot stamping proved particularly moving. Diaz, Lavcheva, Gordon and McNeeley conveyed the joy, sadness and resilience within Juba, and so did the audience.

Later, speaking with Weston about the program, I noted the evident interconnections among his work over time; he said he was happily surprised to realize that himself during the performance. Aspects he did not previously notice popped out, seemingly underlying his evolution as a composer.  I hope his luminous and singular musicality, together with his humane consciousness provide both musicians and listeners many more thoughtful and compelling works.

Castle of Our Skin’s reflective and original programming opened our minds, as it once again focused on the wide variety within Black culture. The ensemble spotlights current and historical figures—known and unknown—with “curiosity, connections and culture,”  and always to great effect.

Amateur pianist and long-time music aficionado Julie Ingelfinger enjoys day jobs as professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, pediatric nephrologist at Mass General Hospital for Children and deputy editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.

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  1. The music was of high quality and very well played. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough of it.It was an extremely short concert; only 42 minutes of music was played. Dr. Weston has written quite a lot of music, but Castle of Our Skins couldn’t even prepare an hour of music. Sigourney Cook has a lovely voice, but she sang for three minutes. Songs for the Anonymous Lover consists of three short songs and totals 10 minutes, but she sang only one of them. According to Boston Musical Intelligencer she was supposed to also sing Comfort Songs,3 other songs adding up to 10 minutes of music, but they weren’t performed. You wanted to hear the other 11 bon mots. I just wanted to hear more of Trevor Weston’s music in general. It seemed that we were served a few tiny hors d’oeuvres, rather than a meal, good hors d’oeuvres, but leaving one hungry for more.

    Comment by Bennett — December 16, 2019 at 1:16 am

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