Ronja Mokráňová, finishing a Master of Arts in music at Tufts University, gave an audience of about 50 in Distler Auditorium on Saturday night, a colorful sampling of her recent compositions, including vignettes for solo piano, and a major work for violin and piano. Her thesis advisor, Professor John McDonald, pianist, led off with three Intimate Conversations Up for Interpretation: a piano collection. The composer had derived these brief exercises in post-triadic tonal harmony from improvisation. “Shimmering,” with cascades of scales in the Liszt-Ravel manner, built to a generous mid-piece octave climax before subsiding into delicate notes. “Intersections” didn’t sound intersective so much as separated into low and high piano registers, with smooth upper-register harmony rather like Copland of his Dickinson period. “Lost Reality” had some mid-register ostinato patterns, bell chords above, and ff octaves, never losing the thread of a gentle C-sharp minor.
Endless Emergence for violin and piano, a multi-sectional but progressive dialogue lasting 23 minutes, began in strict alternation, gradually in combining. This built to oddly surprising climaxes in which a strong G minor emerged with bell chords, developing into a fortissimo waltz, adding an ostinato on E-flat and D, eventually and cooperatively, and finally faded to the muted near-silence with which the piece began. Varied and impressionistic, but also impressive ideas came together through the perfectly focused playing of violinist Lauren Basney, pianist David Hyun-Su Kim. These two, who had been Mokráňová’s teachers in college. came to Tufts specially for the performance; their concentration was intense.
Intimate Conversations resumed with “Fever Dreams,” another improvisatory study in fast notes hand to hand, with low bells and much pedal. “Stuck in Time” was middle-register chordal in G-flat major (though the composer and I differ about this) with an amiable, lightly syncopated pattern.
In the final piece, which seemed like a one-minute encore; Mokráňová (secondo) joined McDonald (primo) for a piano duet with the unwieldy title Contrary to Popular Belie… I mean, Parallel. The players’ droll theatricality belied the title, with McDonald executing parallel sixths and an occasional forearm cluster as the composer waved him off.
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.