IN: Reviews

Radius Solos


Adapting to Covid19, Radius livestreamed solo pieces for oboe, violin, and piano in compressed time-space. Radius’s founder and artistic director Jennifer Montbach prudently took hold of out-of-the-ordinary by giving ear to a lesser known contemporary composer cluster. Her Thursday first-night transmission unmasked a Maxwell, Mazzoli, Ruehr, Roumain, and Etezady whose unaccompanied modalities of folk and art music of other eras and cultures rang out anew. Montbach, Gabriela Diaz, and Sarah Bob each in her own way warmly allayed solitude.   

Montbach introduced the friendly livestreaming home-hopping solos: “We all need music more than ever…”

Montbach’s soulful soloing oboe sang as identical twin to Maxwell’s Pibroch from 1981.  Herself an oboist and one demonstrably given to reeds such as the Greek aulos and the Scottish bagpipe, British composer Melinda Maxwell beckoned old world traditions, here the drone produced on a cell phone. Pibroch is a kind of music for the Scottish bagpipes, emmeshing rounds of variations on a simple melody. For its characteristic funeral custom, Montbach found a spaciousness despite the home’s limited acoustics. Balancing the full range of her instrument, an overall peacefulness, though with some edge, prevailed. In certain moments, a searing dissonance hit upon the droning A440, Montbach’s single reed instrument in providential awakening.

That “standard tuning pitch” of A440 played into the opening of Dissolve, O My Heart (2011) of Missy Mazzoli. Gabriela Diaz’s sympathetic violin took off to this takeoff on the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita in D Minor. Diaz’s naturalness shuttered light just right from the self-contained Mazzoli fashioning. The composer’s slightly shifting modes allowed an opening for Diaz’s acutely brightened strings often in double-stops. Tempo quickened in a would-be fiddling style, Diaz’s bent going classical. To end, a tender whimper from the violin with practice mute dissolved, rather than resolved, the constricted tonal range, less like Bach and more like that of earlier music. Sound transmitted out of Diaz’s studio semi-realistically.

Soloing from Radius continued. Filter, by Daniel Bernard Roumain, in many ways picked up where Mazzoli had left off, in particular, fast fiddling, here, the tempo really picking up. The piece is a perpetual motion machine, hypothetical of course without Diaz’s authentic source of energy. Filter stirred from a Mazzoli D minor to a G minor centering in a hyper-charged industrialized fiddling quoting well-worn blues riffs. Filter incorporated opening cadenzas: one from Diaz based on Eddie van Halen’s Eruption, a favorite of hers, and the other from the composer. The title derives from rock-morphing sound technique; Diaz followed, placing the bow in different locations of the string.

Elena Ruehr’s MIT colleague and pianist David Deveau asked her to write a piece for his Schubert album, a filler of sorts. Ruehr’s husband, an amateur pianist had begun playing the master’s sonatas while his wife fell in and out of sleep. Ruehr’s “dreaming” became Erinnerung (Remembrance). Sarah Bob performed the East Coast premiere touching, intelligently conceived work from her music room. Montbach thought of it as being “cinematic,” which reflected my own impression. Ruehr described Bob’s rendering as “amazing.” All this in spite of the piano’s treble giving way to considerable amounts of percussiveness (due to the miking, connectivity—what?).

Unsafe (At Any Speed) by Roshanne Etezady bumped up soloing to a twosome without providing a fun, blockbuster close. With all their powers, Bob and husband, percussionist Aaron Trant, could not elevate Etezady’s workouts arranged in minimalistic uniformity. The percussion’s accenting patterns only accentuated drills. Something like Bali’s gamelan clanged faintly from the piano while a vibraphone kept the tempo intact. A police whistle brought a shrilling halt to the ferocity.

Radius’s solos concert clocked in just under an hour.

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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