David Patterson called it “A Senior Recital” of his music, “choral and instrumental works on caring, acceptance, decorum”, and judging from the large student presence in the Recital Hall at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, the enthusiasm was proportionate for this popular professor who has been there since 1972, including 15 years as department chairman. And he has been my friend and colleague, co-directing the Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund, Inc. for almost as long. This affectionate program of short recent works never stopped glowing — there were visuals as well, and plenty of student participation. The audience was equally supportive and vigorous throughout; the camaraderie was everywhere.
The program began with Sonata in Neo Sol for piano, in three movements (“solmization”, “immaterial”, “spritzer away”), ending on a high G, and played with close precision by Timothy McFarland. He continued with a premiere, three Butterfly Prayers, each accompanied by a closeup projection of lepidoptera on a proscenium screen — the black swallowtail had just emerged from the pupa on a dill plant. These six short pieces set much of the tone for the evening: brief portraits in sound but in short, static gestures, in which one could savor the warm jazzy harmony of mixed fifths and diatonic seconds, with a lot of C major and A minor simultaneously covered by an occasional chromatic.
TenBroeck S. Davison, who is married to David Patterson, introduced To Only You, her own text in Patterson’s setting, as performed in a recording by the composer and soprano Jessica Cooper, with beguiling projections of ink and watercolor penguins. Davison also provided the text for a longer piece, On Five Degrees (do ti la sol fa – fa sol la ti do), sung by Ashley Villard, a recent UMass graduate, and accompanied with a long prelude and postlude by flute, cello, vibraphone and piano. The five solmization notes formed repeated scale segments in different keys, a slow, bittersweet tasting of rare sonic liqueurs. This was also a premiere, a new arrangement of an older orchestral piece.
A serious portion of the audience moved on stage to become the University Chamber Singers, directed by David Giessow and accompanied on the piano by Terry Halco. Patterson’s “Alma Mater: To UMass Boston,” to a dry text “by a committee of the university’s Faculty Council,” was smoothly hymnlike and admirably sung. “Isle of Hope” followed (composed 2001, to the famous “New Colossus” text of Emma Lazarus), with some nice modern diatonics and a two-note piano ostinato, with the subtle addition of “from sea to shining sea” by Wellesley’s Katie Bates. A comic note was added with “The Opossum,” text by John Gardner, in a noncontrapuntal but polyvocal setting that ended with whispers: “Lie down. Play dead.” The audience’s snickers might well have read a political meaning into the text.
Patterson himself accompanied another recent graduate, Gerardo Rivas, in Lush Chelsea Dream for tenor sax and piano: “Title refers to three treasured songs in homage to jazz composer Billy Strayhorn.” Dreaming continued in another premiere, Cinematic Somnium for piano, the concluding and longest work on the program. “Dream along with my students of composing for the movies, ominous, melodramatic, reminiscent of the silents.” There was a certain proportion of movie-theater tremolando, but the biggest factor was a minimalistic repetition of bunched triads, especially a close-position A minor punched out repeatedly. Linnéa Bardarson, pianist, played ominously, with complete strength and precision.
In all, this event for David Patterson, by students, colleagues, and friends, was a successful and even oneiric celebration of several arts in support of his elegantly settling music — which is obviously full of caring and acceptance, but in today’s unsettling times, surely needed and welcome.