IN: Reviews

Premieres, Reappearances with Collage

by

David Hoose

Names mostly familiar to Boston new-music enthusiasts, Len Tetta, Donal Fox, Mark DeVoto, Jacob Druckman, and Donald Sur, headlined Concert III Sunday evening at MIT’s Killian Hall. David Hoose, a name synonymous with Collage, lifted baton-free hands for remarkable renderings by some of Boston’s finest musicians in a farewell after 33 years as Music Director. A “fantastic music director” ringing from Augusta Read Thomas echoes the praise from countless other composers who have engaged with Collage New Music over five decades.

Imagine the countless visual sets of instructions—innovative, complex, individualistic scores—from a formidable gamut of composers, and David Hoose’s mind-boggling commitment to get myriads upon myriads of those notes right. Hoose’s ofttimes loose-limbed conducting, though, can be deceptive, giving every sense of what might appear undemanding. Add to that a prevailing modesty and what might come to mind is a kind of super hero, thinking “in real life, anyone who comes to the rescue.”

From his Collage players, sounds hailed down, here colorful and intricate, there virtuosic and dynamic, everywhere expressive and in collaborative esprit: Catherine French-violin, Jennifer Lucht-cello, Sarah Brady-flute, Alexis Lanz-clarinet, Christopher Oldfather-piano, Craig McNutt-percussion, and Tony Arnold-soprano. And that did not go unnoticed by the new-music enthusiasts who had packed Killian, and who filled the Hall with their own unreserved sounds of acknowledgement.

Wanting to come to my own first impressions, finding surprises, and so forth, without first reading the composers’ explanatory words, allowed me the freedom of tuning to the music itself, somewhat in line with Collage’s president and founder Frank Epstein speaking about Hoose as “a truth seeker and gold miner.” Those who followed the composers’ words told me how helpful they were.

Len Tetta, A conversation you cannot hear (2024) world premiere Collage commission, c. 14’ flute, E-flat & B-flat clarinet, violin, cello, piano, snare and bass drum

What to make of the title upon hearing the music? Treble woodwind shrieks begin a strenuous mixture of happenings, some appearing as odds and ends, some being lost and some being found, with only the inevitability of change, ironically, to fix upon. A chattering snare drum and the single big boom of a bass drum aid in laboriously carrying the slow rhythmic undergird of the unheard conversation.

Donal Fox, Never Again Is Now! (2024) world premiere, 50th-Anniversary Commission, c. 18’ flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, cello, percussion

A collage for Collage with daring frames of rhythmic vitality. Genre hopping through Western Classical music styles, also folk, jazz and blues. Listeners may find their ways, guided by these genres, one hop at a time, from a dirge, to a march, to a riff, and more. To my surprise, the composer states that the piece “is about all forms of injustice throughout history, and about hope for a better future.”

Mark DeVoto New England Verses (2019) world premiere, c. 13’ soprano, flute/piccolo, clarinet, violin, cello, piano

An Alban Berg scholar reaching his own intellectual lucidity and passion. Finely wrought counterpoint and chromaticism drawn around the texts of Trumbull Stickney, Emily Dickenson, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Witter Bynner. Tony Arnold’s soprano further humanizes these settings with caring and lightness matching their natural becomingness in “Mnemosyne,” “I dreaded that first robin so,” “Credo,” and “The Singing Huntsman.” The four flow together as a set with a musical gesture between each acting much like a semicolon.

Jacob Druckman, Come Round (1992) c. 23’ flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, marimba, vibraphone, congas, bass drum, cymbals, gong

Suddenness from the extended sextet of striking instrumentalists dominates an overcast surface. Involving every player throughout, extensively varied lattice-like structures ultimately generate boisterous warnings. In somewhat serialist fashion, a continuum of mad dashes heads toward an impenetrable goal. Five Variations and two Ritornellos form an exhaustive low-to-high-octane oversized tripartite work.

Donald Sur, Satori on Park Avenue (1984) c. 10’ flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano

The Korean American as a Japanese Buddhist awakening in a big city. Still fresh timbral placements of brightness carry over into reflective spaces. There are refrains and a pervasive clock-like ticking centering the music eventually caught by the instruments. Midway, the piano chimes the tune, Winchester Quarters. With the three-note clock itself taking on a common harmony toward the end, could that be Vincent Youman’s Tea for Two? Playful familiar scales lead up to an unexpected close.

“Friendship with Donald involved a long open-ended conversation which sought to understand music and life at the most practical and the most speculative levels.” (from Donald Sur Remembered by John Harbison for Collage).

Showing his fondness for the Sur, Hoose surprised his ensemble by ending the concert with Satori rather than the Druckman. Markedly contrasting Come Round, Satori memorably and delightfully—yes, believe it to be so—finalized Concert III, Collage’s 51st season and the crucial influence of Hoose. From programming to performing, Collage New Music has asserted its niche in a world of infinite possibilities. In profound gratefulness, Epstein declared David Hoose Collage’s Music Director Emeritus.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair 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).  www.notescape.net

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