IN: Reviews

Convolutions, Collage


Missed the bus, missed the concert, internet down; caught Collage New Music  late, as longtime Music Director David Hoose opened its 49th season via livestream. Founded by Frank Epstein in 1972, Collage has long been attracted to Schoenbergian-Serial tenets and to no one’s surprise, half of its latest program presented more loyalist works from different generations and polarities, Andrew Imbrie (1921-2007), and Talia Amar (b. 1989). Collage’s other half presented renegade-tending works by regular Marjorie Merryman (b. 1951) and newcomer Eric Nathan (b. 1983).

Monday night Internet viewers of the concert at Pickman Concert Hall Longy School of Music of Bard College surpassed 90. After losing my connection early on and logging in Tuesday, views had reached 300. With the link being available for yet another week and more viewing sure to come listeners might be encouraged to engage in this newer, virus-forced medium.

Were the multiple interviews meant to enlighten and refresh?

Interviewer Amy Lieberman helped—truly comforted—with her introducing Imbrie’s 1983 Pilgrimage as a “game of hot potato,” where the going may be tough on the first go around if you get a little lost. When Collage’s composer-in-residence Brian Sears asked the young Israeli, Talia Amar, what processes were involved in her 2021 When a Dream Becomes Reality… the two soon engaged in shop talk about how electronic composition can be transcribed for acoustic instruments. Marjorie Merryman spoke about Duke Ellington’s music in her work but not so that you would be able to detect it. Eric Nathan’s interview settled on his own program notes—his musings on situational stimuli.

Straightforward, three-camera videography mostly allowed music its rightful place.

Internet chat opened with “Great to see you” and “beautiful” directed us to Marjorie Merryman for the first Boston performance of her Four Images for Solo Cello (2018). The metrically and tonally kind Fantasy, Prelude, Invitation, Restlessness, and In Memory found fluency with cellist Jan Müller-Szeraws, while covering familiar ground instrumentally. Moving into harmonics in the second image, Merryman’s describing that as “ephemeral” dodged my ken. Other images took to various string techniques including “ricochet” bowing. The seven-minute work took to skipping along from phrase to gesture.

Andrew Imbrie’s 22-minute Pilgrimage can also be heard [HERE] on YouTube with a Collage recording from 1989, rate it five-stars. The Allegro con moto and Andante maestoso movements might be understood as convolution in math or more generally of control and caprice. Imbrie: “Pilgrimage, commissioned by the Collage Ensemble, is scored for flute (alternating with piccolo and alto flute), clarinet (alternating with E-flat and bass clarinets), violin, cello, percussion and piano. The title…expresses my view of this composition in particular, and my others in general: namely, that it was a journey in search of an answer.”

With alarming ease, conductor Hoose kept the ensemble on their tiptoes as soloistic routes for each player, often lyrical and teasing, progressed along formidable, denser ways. Perplexingly wondrous playing issued from Collage in this tremendously intricate chamber piece.

According to composer Talia Amar, “When a Dream Becomes Reality… describes an awakening from a dream-like state to the chaotic intensity of the real world. The title of the piece refers to the beginning of the second movement, in which a long crescendo transitions the music from a barely audible air-note into louder material that grows in intensity.” Shrill, sharp cutoffs, soft sounds, and slow underpinnings in old angst ethos prompted thinking of other dream music.

Eric Nathan’s Short Stories finally received its delayed world premiere. The Barlow Endowment for Music Composition Brigham Young University had commissioned it on behalf of Collage. Nathan’s notes begin, “Short Stories is structured in four musically interconnected vignettes.” Some listeners may disagree with the composer’s characterization; the piece timed in at over a half-hour, and the concluding “vignette” lasted 13 minutes…each story went on unexpectedly long.

Though Collage boosted the work as much as it could, this could not have been mistaken for one of the composer’s best. “IV. Piccolo and Percussion: Birds singing outside my window – always.” For that story, Sarah Brady coaxed out a veritable aviary from Longy’s balcony. Had Eric Nathan been channeling Japan’s mouth organ, the sho, used in Gagaku (imperial court music) with the plentiful harmonicas sounding as they did? This “long story” acted as a finale—a wannabe blockbuster.

Praise to David Hoose, Catherine French, violin; Sarah Brady, flute; Christopher Oldfather, piano; Jan Müller-Szeraws, cello; Gary Gorczycka, clarinet; and Craig McNutt, percussion—and all doubling on harmonicas.

Available HERE free for some time.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, received 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 wrote 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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  1. David, as far as it being a virus-forced medium, that is only partially true in this case. Collage was prepared to perform before a live audience and wanted to do so. However, Longy at the last moment denied them access for that purpose. Since September of 2021 Longy has had concerts with live audiences, but this January the administration panicked. Pandemic or not, people could have attended the concert under the same rules as before (proof of vaccination and mask requirement) had Longy permitted it. The Boston Symphony so far this season has not cancelled concerts based on the amount of Covid cases in the community.

    Comment by Bennett — January 19, 2022 at 7:25 pm

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