IN: Reviews

Collage Outs Three Works and Reprises One


Lighthearted and spirited moods dominated Collage New Music’s concert of three world premieres (semi-centennial commissions), one Boston premiere, and one repeat from 30 years ago at Killian Hall yesterday.

Lingbo Ma’s (b. 1996), Elusive Wish led off. The native of China, now a doctoral candidate at NEC and this year’s Collage Fellow, described the piece as sectional, beginning and ending with “a repeated-note idea that sounds rather mechanical,” but this F-sharp piano drip soon expanded into a rocking berceuse, and these two basic ideas framed the piece as a whole, end as well as beginning. Recurrent bell-like chords, over a plucked ostinato beat, formed a widely spaced sonority with near-diatonic harmony that was elegantly punctuated with isolated notes, and sonorously attractive. “I intentionally left the music open ended,” but what it sounded like, at the end, was a well-wrought closure.

Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?, which Eric Moe (b. 1954) framed in terms of “the difference between contemporary reality and the neoliberal imaginarium,” came across as a more overtly sectional, whimsical work, the sections set off by taped “phrases of actual corporate interview questions,” such as “What benefits are you hoping for?” and “What are your expectations?” Jazz piano fragments, tick-tock woodblocks, creepy upward-moving scale figurations, and often a demonstrable D minor tonality in chords, piano and mallet instruments, expostulated fast and loud 6/8 patterns, even with a burst from a Flexatone.

Shawn Okpebholo (b. 1981), the evening’s only absent composer was represented by CryptOlogiE (2014). This medley of soggetti cavati about his wife and daughters incorporated: “…a serial pitch set of our birthdays…; a Morse code rhythm… and repeated ostinati …(C, D, E)… energetic, sweet, and methodical.” Drumming inside the piano, slapping cello, flutter-lips in the flute, and a startling gong effect when four players stood and moved into the piano with their fists, offset the steady E in semiquavers. The recirculation of the named pitch-classes brought a nice-sounding A minor – C major loosely together.

Rodney Lister’s (b. 1951) The Four Seasons, completed this year, works on a larger and heavier scale, claiming as important sources of inspiration an environmental gallery work of the same title by David Hockney, and Georges Perec’s La vie: mode d’emploi, a major offering from OuLiPo. Humpty Dumpty’s seasonal song from “Alice in Wonderland” serves as an epigraph. Beginning with Winter, with bowed cymbal, a flute solo, bell chords in the piano with vibraphone, string harmonics, and whole-tone chords in a close texture, the piece progressed to more elaborate contrapuntal bursts and polyrhythms, with an abundance of high notes (Spring), col legno strings, a punctuating marimba, and witty Alberti bass patterns (Summer), concluding with a delicate assembly of flute, cello harmonics, and vibraphone. Some of these textures were difficult to disentangle aurally, but the sensitive sense of color was always apparent, especially “In Autumn, when the leaves are brown…”

The closer, Tableaux I by Peter Child (b. 1949), was written in 1991 and premiered that year by Collage. “Flight” begins with sharp single-note attacks, then bursts and twitches, that “coalesce little by little into brisk melodic patterns and, eventually, into a vigorous contrapuntal melee” in very fast 6/8 galloping trochees. “Elegy — in time of war” (presumably the Serbian war in 1991) is ruminative, “inward and elegiac in tone,” with an abundance of sighing melodies, clarinet/flute, a warm alto flute/cello, various soli, and a middle section with scraped piano, heavy chords in a chorale with chimes and cymbal and even a snare drum; finally alto flute/cello once again, with wind chords. “Diddle-ee dee” is “a cheerful, jazzy, extroverted scherzo,” beginning with alto flute and bongos, a boisterous theme, and a lot of unison writing, with the players shouting “Diddle-ee dee” at the end, and everyone smiling.

This extroverted concert brought together this year’s foundational ensemble: Heather Braun, violin; Christopher Oldfather, piano; Jan Müller-Szeraws, cello; Linda Toote, flutes; Alexis Lanz, clarinets; and, substituting for the loyal Craig McNutt, percussionist Michael Weinfield-Zell, who worked expertly and unruffled in a program that gave him an unusually large and varied role. David Hoose controlled everything with his usual care and attention to detail, and emceed the pre-concert talk with four composers present. The well-printed 28-page booklet also urges us to look forward to next season’s (no. 51) offerings of four concerts, which will include no fewer than seven pieces advertised as “NEW WORK,” by seven different composers.

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert on the music of Alban Berg, Debussy, and other early 20th-century composers. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (Ph.D., 1967), he has published on many music subjects, and edited the revised fourth (1978) and fifth (1987) editions of Harmony by his teacher Walter Piston.

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