Historic Boston Music Hall Organ Commemorated


A rousing event of this year’s concert season was the re-enactment at the Methuen Memorial Music Hall on May 10 of a major musical and social event in 19th-century Boston – the November 3, 1863 inauguration of the great organ built in Germany by Walcker Orgelbau for the Boston Music Hall on lower Washington Street (now the Orpheum Theater). The organ was rededicated at Methuen Memorial Music Hall (built as Serlo Hall in 1909). Its centennial celebration will take place in September.
see http://www.mmmh.org [click title for full review]



Musicians from Marlboro Perform Music from Three Centuries at the Gardner Museum


Musicians from Marlboro’s concert at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s “Sunday Concert Series” on May 10 consisted of compositions from three centuries, beginning with Nielsen, followed by Haydn, and after a brief intermission, Schubert. Clarinetist Pascal Archer exhibited a great range of musical skill in Nielsen’s Serenata in vano. Also impressive was the synchrony between the bassoon, played by Jennifer Collins Monroe, and the clarinet. With its peculiar grouping of instruments, this piece certainly had a unique sound – not one that I am persuaded I was drawn to. Violinists Sarah Kapustin and Lily Francis, along with violist Julianne Lee and cellist Peter Wiley, gave a solid presentation of the Haydn Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 76, No. The hero of this performance was Wiley, who steadily provided strong support to the ensemble, yet when given the opportunity, played beautifully moving melodies. The highlight of this concert was certainly the performance of Schubert’s Octet in F Major for winds and strings. The ensemble enhanced the inherent drama in the sixth and final movement through their repetitive full crescendos. They also did a magnificent job in hitting unresolved chords with great pitch accuracy, afterwards leaving a breath in the music as the audience begs for these sounds to resolve. Rewarded with a standing ovation, this performance of Schubert’s Octet was presented with great musical stamina and skill on behalf of this ensemble of accomplished musicians. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Good For What Ails You


I’m guessing that a fair number of you aren’t familiar with the Longwood Symphony, an admirable local group, which is a pity. Longwood Symphony is dedicated to community service and raising awareness for under-funded medically-related programs. Each concert is a benefit for one of these deserving causes. This particular performance on May 9 benefited the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. Conductor Jonathan McPhee oversees the group with a fluid and attentive style; extremely capable and musical. Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, written at the close of World War II, got things off to an optimistic start. George Antheil’s McKonkey’s Ferry, a musical portrayal of Washington’s surprise crossing of the Delaware, plays very much like a dramatic film score. All in all, an extremely uplifting evening featuring optimistic music passionately performed by multitalented caregivers. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Juventas Presents Two Chamber Operas


Juventas new music ensemble focused on two new chamber operas for its latest concert on May 10 at the Cambridge Family YMCA. Matthew Vest’s The Hourglass, adapting Danilo Kiš’s book of the same name, appeared to be the portrayal of chaos, but it ended up being literal instead of depicted. Erin Huelskamp’s The Year of the Serpent associated different characters with different genres: pentatonic chinoiserie for Li Chi, steamy jazz for the serpent. The choices were a bit familiar, but fit into the opera’s campy vibe. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Cantata Singers Team Up with Young Choristers in Final Concert of Britten Season


The Cantata Singers concluded their Britten season last Friday, May 8th at 7:30 in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall with two works by Britten, the premiere of Andy Vores’s Natural Selection, a single choral movement by Bach, and a collaborative “cantata” by fourth-graders from the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester. Britten’s The Company of Heaven employs two speakers, soprano and tenor soloists, chorus, and an orchestra of strings, organ, and timpani. Speakers Marya Lowry and James Petosa delivered narrative and poetic texts with equal clarity and conviction, while rhythmicize choral recitation to orchestral accompaniment of the final battle between Michael and Satan from the Book of Revelation demonstrated Britten’s mastery of this dramatic technique. Students from Cantata Singer’s “Classroom Cantatas” program were joined by the Boston Children’s Chorus in a performance of their songs with the Cantata Singers orchestra. Andy Vores skillfully incorporated the children’s tunes into his own choral settings,for his newly commissioned cantata Natural Selection a “celebration of the natural world and of Charles Darwin.” Under Hoose’s direction, Cantata Singers delivered a spirited performance of Bach’s Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft, although the complex fugal texture might have been better served by a smaller choral ensemble. [click title for full review]    [continued]

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Opera Boston: The Case for Pertinence over Authenticity


One of the most prevailing criticisms of the opera world today is how common it has become for opera companies to take gratuitous, and often anachronistic creative license in the production of pre-20th-century operatic works. Yet after all of the reworking of the setting, translation of the text, and modernization of the characters, Opera Boston’s production of Bedrich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride was magnificent. The orchestra, lead by Gil Rose, not only played beautifully, but captured the essence of the Czech folk roots of Smetana’s score. Jennifer Aylmer and Patrick Miller were fantastic, and opera veteran James Maddalena truly made this comic opera an actual comedy. Act III was nothing short of spectacle, with fantastic choreography and direction by Daniel Pelzig. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Brilliant Close to Season by Boston Baroque with Michael Haydn Mass, Other Works


Conductor Martin Pearlman and concertmaster Daniel Stepner brought Boston Baroque’s 35th anniversary season to a brilliant close in Jordan Hall with performances May 1st and 2nd of works by Mozart and the two Haydns. Pearlman’s skillful direction in Michael Haydn’s Requiem Mass was rewarded by crisp articulation and flexible dynamics from the 21-voice choir and the orchestra of top-notch players on period strings. Soprano Hyunah Yu, mezzo Ann McMahon Quintero, tenor Kerem Kurk and bass-baritone Kevin Deas sang with focused tone and stylistic sensitivity. The second half of the program included two concert arias by Mozart and concluded with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony no. 102 in Bb major, in which Pearlman made the most of displaced accents and rhythmic displacements that constantly jolted the listener’s expectations. In the hands of skillful players and conductors, period instruments’ focused tuning, precise attack, and agility can peal away layers of post-romantic performing traditions to reveal the wit and subtlety of music that we too often take for granted. Count Boston Baroque as yet another jewel of Boston’s musical scene. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Mozart Yin Berlioz Yang in Harmony with Davis/BSO


Colin Davis, now in his eighties but conducting with the zeal of a tyro, led three remarkable concerts last week of Mozart and Berlioz, two polar-opposite composers for whom he exhibits a very special affinity. Sir Colin had programmed Mozart’s, Piano Concerto #25 in C, K. 503 with soloist Imogen Cooper, and Berlioz massive Te Deum. These were the final concerts of the orchestra’s 128th season. I was fortunate to hear the three concerts in succession, and it was instructive to follow the arc of interpretation and expression which was carried through the performances. By Saturday, venerable Symphony Hall virtually levitated. [click title for full review]    [continued]

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Unusual Pieces Chosen for Mendelssohn’s 200th Birthday Celebration at NEC


The New England Conservatory celebrated the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth on May 4 at Jordan Hall, as the final performance of the 24th season of their “First Mondays” concert series with Mendelssohn’s Nocturno for Winds (sometimes performed under the title Overture for Winds), excerpts from Mendelssohn’s four-hand piano arrangement of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his Quintet No. 2 in Bb Major, Op. 87. The Nocturno for Winds (1824) was performed by a promising student ensemble of 11 musicians led by conductor Hugh Wolff. Originally arranged as evening entertainment music for amateur pianists, Mendelssohn’s piano four-hand version of his famed incidental music A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a faithful reduction of the orchestral piece, but leaves much to be desired nonetheless. After the intermission, established musicians and teachers Miriam Fried, violin; Annie Rabbat, violin; Kim Kashkashian, viola; Paul Biss, viola; and Paul Katz, cello, gave a strong performance of Mendelssohn’s four-movement Quintet No. 2 in Bb Major, Op. 87 (1845). [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Cage, Birds, and the Tambourine Men


Bass drums, marimbas, water gongs, sheet metal, and various other miscellanies filled the Boston Conservatory Theatre stage on April 26, a veritable truckload of equipment that could only suggest a percussion ensemble performance. The Boston Conservatory Percussion Ensemble, directed by Keith Aleo and Samuel Z. Solomon, performed a gratifying program of five 20th- and 21st-century percussion pieces. The performances were highly varied in styles, diverse in sounds, and wickedly difficult. [click title for full review]    [continued]

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MIT Music and Theater Arts Celebrates John Harbison’s 70th Birthday


Peter Child introduced the concert with “we love you John – and what better way to express it than for us all to hear a concert with your music”. After the concert Harbison made a few brief comments of his own, to the effect that he loves his teaching at MIT, and speeds up with eagerness whenever he is heading to work with his students. “This is MIT”, he said, “We invent things, try new things out, see what works.” In spite of his busy schedule of teaching, conducting, and composing, the concert revealed that what he writes works very well, and keeps getting better. [Click Title for Full Review]    [continued]

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Transparency, Clarity, Detail in BSO Concerts with Finnish Guest


Guest conductor Susan Mälkki evinced a clear, authoritative beat on the podium last week for three concerts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, deputizing for Yuri Temirkanov who has cancelled all of his U.S. appearances. I attended the April 25 concert. The BSO responded with an uncommon clarity of line and transparency of texture, ideally suited to the program the maestra had brought with her: Stravinsky’s Suite from Pulcinella (1920) in its 1947 revision, the same composer’s Symphony in C (1940), Büsser’s 1907 orchestration of Debussy’s Petite Suite (1889, originally scored for piano four-hands), and Ravel’s 1919 orchestration of four movements of his beguiling Le Tombeau de Couperin, written originally for piano solo two years earlier. The Ravel opened the program, and signaled an evening of virtuosic oboe playing from the orchestra’s first desk player John Ferrillo. Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite followed, and had the affect of a bracing cold shower, as music from this period of Stravinsky’s neo-classical creativity can often engender. Careful dynamic shading, pungent accents of dissonance, abrupt tempo changes were all handled expertly. Ms. Mälkki and the BSO gave a performance Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite, of this pleasant hybrid that was probably as good as one could hope for. The program closed with a probing performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony in C. The BSO’s playing here was spot-on – strong, incisive, and calm when required. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Harvard University Choir: An Appreciation In Memoriam John Raymond Ferris


Handel’s Saul – Sunday April 26, 2009 An Appreciation The Harvard University Choir was founded by John Ferris in 1958. During the 10 years I was a member, it was a constant source of inspiration, learning, and companionship. Rehearsals and performances (which were weekly and sometimes daily) were always impassioned. John had a deep understanding of both the music and the people he inspired. At his memorial service last fall, 120 grateful alumni of the choir, most of whom have managed to keep both music and singing a large part of their lives, gathered to sing their hearts out under the new Harvard Organist and Choir Master, Edward Elwyn Jones. [Click Title for Full Review]    [continued]

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Boston Lyric Opera’s Don Giovanni Set in 1950s Great Success


Modernity and Mozart might appear paradoxical, but in the Boston Lyric Opera Company’s presentation of Don Giovanni, under Artistic Director Esther Nelson, they have never been in such agreement. Set in 1950s Italy, this production, which runs until May 5 at The Shubert Theatre, does not hide behind grandiose and elaborate sets and costumes but employs simplicity effectively, leading the audience more intently to focus on each character and to relate with the opera’s story. The outstanding orchestra, led by Anthony Barrese, provided solid musical support throughout the opera. The The scenery and costume changes were not missed, especially with the innovative lighting provided by Robert Wierzel. The consistently excellent cast was led by Christopher Schaldenbrand in the title role, with other standouts being Matthew Burns as Leporello and Kimwana Doner as Donna Elvira. [click title for full review.]    [continued]


Finding Chi at the Gardner


Pianist Katherine Chi appeared at the Gardner Museum on Sunday April 26 with a different kind of line up. A refreshing one at that, it included the stoic to the grandiose-Boulez to Busoni. Sonata No. 1, by a 19-year-old Pierre Boulez, is not something you often bump into at concerts these days in Boston. Chi did a fairly good job of it. Pointillism, not gesture, dominated Chi’s approach, a static state emerging instead of one more forward-moving. Ferruccio Busoni’s Fantasie on Two Motives from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, probably just as rarely heard these days as Boulez, allowed Katherine Chi to really show her stuff: high-speed arpeggios, even higher-speed cascades of handfuls of sounds over the extent of the keyboard. Three short pieces commemorating the death of Haydn that were composed 100 years after his death in 1809, Ravel’s Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn, Reynaldo Hahn’s Thème Varié sur le nom Haydn, and Debussy’s Hommage à Haydn could well have been a first for most Boston concertgoers. Chi was most at home with Hahn, moderating the volume just right. Both Ravel and Debussy were given gorgeous surfaces, except for some notes punched out. Of the three, it is the imitative nod to Haydn that flows so naturally into the irresistible sonorous universe of Ravel that truly leaves one in wonderment. In Sonata No. 27 in E minor Op. 90 by Beethoven, Chi’s is a strong sound but not a full one. Between the very loud and very soft there were few gradations. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Oddball Program, Communal Group


The most interesting thing about the New England Philharmonic’s last concert of the season, at BU’s Tsai Performance Center on April 25, was the group itself. The group’s attitude is casual, but not to the detriment of any professionalism. The overall effect is of greater community and intimacy than one often gets from orchestral music. The selections were anything but stale, but it was hard to tell why they shared the bill. Henri Dutilleux’s L’arbe des songes, is certifiably French. This was a violin concerto (Danielle Maddon played with the appropriate voluptuousness and ease), tracing the titular tree from its roots to a full flowering. The most involved piece was a commission from Peter Child, Louisa’s War, with chorus and narrator (Joyce Kulhawik). The piece ends with Louisa describing a victory parade after the war: “Saw the great procession, and though colored men were in it, one was walking arm in arm with a white gentleman and I exulted thereat.” The note says this is an “ambivalent” moment with a backdrop of “controlled chaos” related to “Louisa’s diseased delirium.” Unfortunately, the music at this point sounded too much like an Ivesian populist victory for this ambivalence to come through. Against the text, it came off as an unearned climax. After intermission came Dvorák’s 8th Symphony (an oddball in a program of oddballs). Pittman drew out the less tried-and-true aspects of the music, playful phrasings and rhythmic quirks, giving freshness to the composer’s work. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Eva León in Strong Debut With BCO


Boston Classical Orchestra presented a delightful selection of early Romantic works in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall on Saturday, April 18, 2009. Violinist Eva León, a native of Spain’s Canary Islands, made her Boston debut as soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Her interpretation of this virtuoso showpiece was free of elaborate ornamentation and emphasized playful contrasts of articulation. The simple recitativo accompaniment in the center of the first movement recalled Mendelssohn’s interest in and revival of Bach’s orchestral works. This simple halo of sound, recalling Bach’s recitatives for Jesus in his Passions, showcased Ms. León’s strengths as a recitalist After playing a supporting role in the first half of the concert, the woodwind choir emerged in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, with a vibrant, warm sound that focused the timbre and power of the ensemble. The French horns and rotary-valve trumpets blended masterfully through this work, evoking a Viennese serenade in the second movement and an Austrian Ländler in the third. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Cellist Natalia Gutman and the Boston Philharmonic: Prokofiev and Brahms at their Best


Under the baton of Benjamin Zander, the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra presented two masterpieces: Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 125, featuring Russian cellist Natalia Gutman, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73, on Thursday, April 23 at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre. Gutman confidently led the BPO through the wild ride of Prokofiev’s cello masterpiece. After a couple of shaky interactions, with the orchestra hurrying to maintain pace with the cello at the beginning of the Andante, they both settled into a moving rendition of the movement. Gutman proved her mastery of the entire range of the cello (in the Andante, the cello part covers more than four octaves), especially when handling runs of double-stopped notes with ease. Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major (1877) spotlighted many talented members of the orchestra, in addition to illustrating the orchestra’s ability to work together in producing swells of sound, exhibiting rhythmic control and distinct articulation – especially through their precise accents and seamless phrasing. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Who is Victor Goldberg?


Pro Musicis presented Victor Goldberg, one of four young pianists to win its 2008 Pro Musicis International Award, at Pickman Concert Hall, Longy School of Music, on Saturday, April 18th. The softest of trills and sudden surprises all seemed effortlessly induced in Scarlatti’s familiar Sonata in E major. Longy’s brand new Steinway D piano, which has only just started getting broken in, really underwent serious testing with Brahms’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel. Goldberg exposed a considerable range of the high-performance instrument’s assets. It has been quite a while since Haydn’s historically significant and much praised Andante and Variations in F minor has been heard in concerts around the town. Goldberg came close to making real the sobbing and elation Haydn inventively composed around a minor/major key scheme. From the natural to the mystical, Goldberg chose another gem, Scriabin’s Sonata no. 5 in f sharp major. The exuberance of the audience was met with the unassuming pianist’s pianistic and poetic wonder from his Tchaikovsky’s, October: Autumn Song from “The Seasons” and Chopin’s Marche Militaire. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]


Fine Choices by Pianist Bempéchat for Haydn, Schubert Program


Some of the most poorly-advertised concerts turn out to be among the best. The recital on April 17 at the Pusey Room of Harvard’s Memorial Church had an audience of 11, but they were richly rewarded by pianist and musicologist Paul-André Bempéchat. Bempéchat’s program consisted of two sonatas by Haydn, Sonata no. 33 in C minor and Sonata no. 58 in C major, and one by Schubert, the great Sonata in B-flat major. Few of Haydn’s sonatas are in the minor mode, but this first one on the program, in three movements, was full of engaging drama and a seemingly endless supply of surprises, especially in the finale. The two sonatas fit together perfectly, and Bempéchat’s playing of was at every moment solidly assertive, crisp, and full of joy. What Schumann referred to as “heavenly length” in Schubert’s last works is also a kind of unearthly peace. Bempéchat’s deeply felt performance was beyond words. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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BSO Guest Artist Substitutions Keep Program of Beethoven, Mahler


Newcomer guest artists to the BSO on April 16 and 17 highlighted a program taken up with the concerto and symphony, two of classical music’s most revered and fruitful creations. Violinist Isabelle Faust took us inside of Beethoven’s clearly contoured Violin Concerto in D Major. Her choice of cadenza for the first movement, a version of the one written by Beethoven that includes a tympani part, and her decision not to end the second movement with a cadenza but rather start up the third movement with several “false starts” lent still more veracity to her performance of this immense composition. In her Boston debut, soprano Juliane Banse captured Mahler’s “worldly tumult” in his far-flying Symphony No. 4. Hers is a voice that really means something as it changes color, vibrato, strength and emotion, always maneuvering adroitly around text and melody. Unfortunately, Wigglesworth allowed the orchestra to overpower her voice up to the closing section where sublime singing and playing emerged. Throughout a good part of the symphony an imbalance of orchestral sound loomed, brass over winds, winds over strings-and at certain instances, solo blasts seemed inspired by Heavy Metal. decibel levels. Too often, Mahler’s keen multitasking passages were turned into faint blocks of sound. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]


Peter Serkin and Longy’s New Steinway


Peter Serkin opened his program at the Longy School of Music Saturday night, April 11th with a piece by John Bull, Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la. Serkin led the ear through an immaculately voiced polyphony. It was wonderful to be able to follow the notes throughout his playing. His touch in Debussy’s Six Epigraphes Antiques was as finely tuned as it will ever get – no exaggeration. There was a monochromatic effect overall in Bach’s Suite in C minor BWV 997; finding enough crispness, or staccatos-a pluck-for contrast to the prevailing smoothness of the legato became futile. In Variations and Fugue in B-flat on a Theme by Handel, Op. 23 by Brahms, transparency shone through nearly every variation, several were over-pedaled, the last was not clear. The fugue began with some brilliance but thereafter sameness again emerged. The climactic final cadence did not materialize. Three encores followed. He opened up, let fun in and the audience loved it. A promising program and promising piano can also be remembered as an evening of technical wizardry and hypnotic abstractionism, hearkening back to the ’50s and ’60s. If your taste is for the intellectual, you might well have been spellbound. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Choral Nirvana from The Tallis Scholars


The acoustically-sympathetic St Paul’s Church, Cambridge, is a perfect venue for the Tallis Scholars. The thesis of its fascinating program on April 3 was the connection between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque music, a point made vividly, compellingly, and with great intelligence and insight. There were moments of surpassing beauty: in the “Benedictus” of the Lassus Mass Missa Bel’Amfitrit’altera. The sound of the three second choirmen was as sublime and hushed as I can imagine any choral singing could be, and the second tenor, Simon Wall, brought the same sense of radiance to the Psalm tones of the concluding work on the program, a Magnificat of Heironymous Praetorius. Two discoveries for this listener were the Lamentations of Alonso Lobo, and Nesciens Mater by Jean Mouton, two pieces meant to be sung together, and made fascinating, as the program put it, by “stunning effects of canonic virtuosity.” [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Dyno Duo: Innovative Pairing Yields Incredible Results


The Dyno Duo, Diane Heffner and Katherine Matasy, illustrated the intricacy and integrity of works employing multiple clarinets and accordion in a concert last Sunday, April 5, sponsored by the Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble at the Community Music Center of Boston. Consisting of music by Judith Weir, Guy Klucevsek, Joan Tower, and premieres of commissioned pieces by Lansing McLoskey and John Howell Morrison (both in attendance), this night proved to be one of the most exceptional and inspiring concerts I have ever attended. Weir’s Sketches from a Bagpiper’s Album (1984) with Matasy on the clarinet and Yvonne Lee on the piano, was followed by Matasy performing Klucevsek’s solo accordion piece, Loosening Up the Queen (1987. Concluding the first half was a complicated piece by Tower, Fantasy (…those harbor lights) (1983), with Diane Heffner on clarinet and Lee again accompanying on the piano. They shone through their careful handling of virtuosic solo passages of “fantasy” music. John Howell Morrison, in Ember (2009), a work for multiple clarinets and accordion commissioned by the Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble, experiments with the use of physical space, varying combinations of instruments, and essentially static musical lines, in addition to applying concepts of the I Ching hexagram. The intimate nature of the hall coupled with the deft skill of the musicians, Matasy, Heffner, and Vivian Montgomery, made for a memorable performance. The premiere of Lansing McLoskey’s blur (2009), another Dinosaur Annex commission, was performed by Matasy on clarinet and Heffner on basset horn. Matasy and Heffner truly listened to each other throughout this performance, ensuring that the consonant and dissonant qualities of the intervals presented were as tuned as possible, that their points of overlap were exact, and that each note was hit with accuracy. This work inspired me to be more critical when thinking about musical sonority, form and thematic development in the future. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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