Monday, April 12, 2004
Photos from the conference
provided by John Bilotta
Sunday, April 11, 2004
Concert V, Saturday, April 10, 8pm
Submitted by John Bilotta
Most of the works in the fifth and final concert of the conference were performed by members of the Society for New Music now also including Linda Greene, flute, John Friedrichs, clarinet, and Jennifer Vacanti, percussion.
“Chasin’ Bill” by Michael Sidney Timpson
The ensemble opened with a highly energetic performance of a work with an interesting history. Briefly, this was originally written for a traditional Chinese silk-and-bamboo ensemble, the music however being an amalgam of jazz and hip-hop rhythmic styles. In this version for small chamber ensemble, the timbral qualities of traditional Asian instruments may be lost but the musical qualities of the work are not lost. The piece opens with solemn flourishes that echo its roots in Chinese musical tradition but that is quickly transformed into a motoric explosion of syncopated energy that, with interludes, carries the listener through to the end of the piece. The projects a great spirit of fun and joy in music making.
“Nostalgia” by Grace Choi
A set of five variations for solo flute based on a theme derived from Korean court music of the 15th century was played with great delicacy and dexterity by Lisa Cella. The original theme itself, although in a slow tempo, is highly ornamented and would challenge any composer to produce distinctive variations. Ms. Choi succeeds admirably. She takes several different approaches, elaborating the ornamentation, accelerating the tempo while rewriting the ornaments, profoundly slowing the tempo, and stripping out ornamentation. Each of these works in creating an interesting and clearly contrasting variation of the original theme. The final variation is the most distinctive and succeeds in bringing the work to a definitive close. It brings in extended performance techniques that add even more color and character to a piece that is already rich in both. Ms. Cella performed it with ease and conviction closing the work elegantly.
“Sukhi!” by Brian Fennelly
Deriving a two-note motif from the name of Korean composer Sukhi Kang, Mr. Fennelly uses it to build an extended fanfare and celebratory gesture in honor of a colleague. This work for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano opens with the instruments individually and in combination calling out the motif. The motif is then used to construct larger and more complex musical ideas that give the piece its overall form. A composer’s tour-de-force, Mr. Fennelly succeeds in building a delightful, surprisingly complex, and ultimately joyful work out of the simplest materials and in the process creating a work that the audience enjoyed and that the ensemble clearly enjoyed performing.
“Yangtze! Yangtze!” by Ping Jin
The full ensemble performed this beautiful and engaging work. It encompasses a wide variety of scenes and moods drawing on folk materials of the Yangtse boat workers. From a limited set of material presented in unison as the work opens, Mr. Jin builds a musicscape of scenes celebrating the vitality and beauty of a region of the river that is currently under threat of loss due to damming. The work is brilliantly orchestrated for a small ensemble and has the aural impact of a much larger ensemble. Well structured and engaging at all times, this was beautifully performed by the Society for New Music which commissioned it. The closing section which featured bowed vibraphone bars against the soft sounds of the other instruments was one of the most distinctive and moving moments in the work.
“Reaktionmaschine II” by Evan Johnson
For piccolo, violin, cello, piano, and percussion, this is a work of great delicacy and extended silence. Despite the number of instruments, the work at times reached the limits of audibility which, rather than losing the listener, instead pulled them forward to capture the delicacy of the sounds. Proceeding at a very slow tempo, the work unfolds from almost nothing, evolving a very few ideas gradually. It was performed with great care and precision by the ensemble and was very effective in live performance.
“Concepts” by Chihchun Chi-sun Lee
John Friedrichs performed this solo for bass clarinet with forcefulness and a careful eye to timbre. An atonal work, Ms. Lee’s piece opens with bold statement which are then stretched and developed at the extreme ends of the instrument’s range. Mr. Friedrichs’ performance was very expressive, his lowest range solid and resonant and his upper range nimble. The work’s distortion effects in the highest registers came off well and provided structurally important markers in the work. The opening material is developed and elaborated increasing in difficulty and offering the performer a challenging interpretive opportunity. Ms. Lee has constructed a highly effective and enjoyable work for an instrument rarely heard in solo performance.
“Shabby Chic” by James Barry
The full ensemble returned to perform this delightful work. The musical materials, both melodically and harmonically, were engaging and well developed. Alternately playful and lyrical, this work had a momentum from the beginning that carried it well throughout. The instrumental writing was particularly effective taking full advantage of the capabilities of the instruments and the professional skills of the performers. The melodic ideas in particular were evolved throughout the work with great skill and imagination. A colorful work that transformed simple ideas into elaborate structures echoing the theme of its title.
“Platter of Discontent” by Marc Mellits
Another work commissioned by the Society for New Music and performed by the full ensemble, this imaginative piece in six movements written with these specific performers in mind was able to exploit some of their unique strengths. Most of the movements are energetic, lively, colorful, and virtuosic, a challenge to any ensemble and perfectly played here. The last movement features an extended ostinato for the piano which eventually was taken up by the rest of the ensemble and carried through to the end of the work. The only true slow movement, for marimba, violin, and cello, a stunning contrast to the other movements, was extraordinarily effective. Although it used only three members of the ensemble, it was written with so sharp an ear to sonority and the possibilities of the three instruments in combination, to say nothing of its simple melodic beauty, that it was one of the most moving moments in the concert.
Concert IV, continued
Submitted by John Bilotta
“Nothing Forgotten” by Hilary Tann
In the interests of full disclosure, I must own that this will be a very biased commentary. My admiration for the work of Hilary Tann only increases with each work I hear and the performance of her piano trio which closed the afternoon concert only reinforced my view. First of all, Mssrs. Pritsker, Macero, and Heyman gave an outstanding and powerful performance of a work that has much the same breadth and intensity of Ms. Tann’s orchestral works but with only three instruments. Like many of her works, “Nothing Forgotten” is inseparable from her deep connection with the natural world, a connection which she can communicate in unmistakeable terms. The opening chords and motifs have a granitic grandeur that is instantly identifiable. A maestoso in the grandest sense, the audience’s attention is grabbed and held onto throughout the movement as the musical ideas unfold and are developed. The second movement is brighter, more spirited, refractory. The finale brings us back to a sense of the opening while taking the work further and deeper, so to speak, into the forest. As I listen to Ms. Tann’s works, and this one in particular, I keep coming back to the fundamental question of what makes them so compelling. Although many things contribute, the tonal/atonal tensions, the brilliant instrumental writing, the finely-tuned ear that creates these works, in the end I think it is her almost instinctive feel for structure as the mechanism for the communication of musical meaning.
Concert IV, Saturday, April 10, 4:30pm
Submitted by John Bilotta
The works in the fourth concert were performed by members of the Society for New Music: Christina Buciu and Vladimir Pritsker, violins, Kit Dodd, viola, George Macero, cello, and Steven Heyman, piano.
“Sonus Dulcis” by Andrian Pertout
This aptly named work for piano trio provided an opportunity to hear Pritsker, Macero, and Heyman perform music that is squarely in the Western tradition of writing yet based on gestures and materials far removed. The composer has built the piece on the Japanese “In” scale and the opening ideas of the work suggest, without copying, links to the traditions of high art styles in Japanese music. The musical ideas are developed and expanded in fairly rapid succession building in complexity and rhythmic complexity. The relatively quiet style of the opening appears periodically to divert the momentum of the piece only to be pushed on a few moments later. Ultimately, however, the work subsides quietly. Mr. Pertout has written a work that is both emotionally alive and musically rewarding to hear.
“Watercolors” by Ann Lathan Kerzner
It is almost unnecessary to read in the program notes for this string quartet that it was inspired by the maritime culture of Newburyport, Massachusetts. From the vigorous, opening chords of the quartet which alternate with rolling rhythmic figures in the first movement’s introduction, there is an unmistakeable feel of the sea. The quartet played with energy and enthusiasm. Each movement has a distinctive character: the first clearly communicating a feel of the open sea, the second, quieter and even mysterious at times depicting evening on a local island, the third returning both to shore and to some of the spirit of the first movement. A colorful work in a tonal idiom, it is well written for string quartet including some well-performed naturalistic string effects in the second movement.
“Synthecism #5” by Brian Bevelander
Whether it was the composer’s intent or not, this incredible virtuoso work has all the character of a great concerto for piano and tape. This emotional sweep of the work, its broad gestures, and, yes, almost romantic intensity fall in the realm of the dramatic concerto. Steven Heyman’s athletic performance was breathtaking. The sounds of the piano rolled over the stage and into the hall in massive waves blending with the equally dramatic and expressive tape sounds. The synchronization of the live performer and the tape was consistently sharp. About three-quarters of the way through the work, a series of marcato chords on the tape introduced some of the most extraordinary playing on the part of Mr. Heyman. This was an extraordinary performance of an amazing and exciting work.
“Curvatures” by Tom Lopez
A rich and sensuous piece for amplified string quartet, Mr. Lopez’ work in one movement is extremely well-written for strings taking advantage of a wide range of playing styles as well as a wide emotional range. The work begins with the quartet alone introducing well-crafted and distinctive musical ideas. The development of the ideas begins quickly and at this point some of the amplification and processing effects begin to become apparent. Within a minute, the sound of the quartet coming from the stage is enveloped in a sphere of reprocessed sounds, as if the air inside the theater itself were a resonant shell surrounding the live quartet. The quartet members played with tremendous skill and great delicacy. The performance styles demanded by the composer ranged broadly but all parts were built into a well-defined and architecturally sound whole. The combination of live strings and processed string sounds gave the work a visceral quality, allowing the audience to feel as well as here the sensuousness of the sounds.
Saturday, April 10, 2004
Concert III, Saturday, April 10, 1:30pm
Submitted by John Bilotta
“Movement IX” by Ernesto Pellegrini
This colorful rondo for solo viola opens with thirteen insistent double-stops on the lower strings, a gesture which alternates with the presentation of some of the work’s melodic ideas. It repeats, not exactly, and the melodic ideas are further unfolded. So the opening of this piece, captures the listener’s attention immediately and holds it as a contrasting and more lyrical section appears. The composer takes a somewhat different path than the textbook rondo form in that the repeated “A” sections are heavily developed and varied as the piece progresses. The links to the earlier statements of the opening section are there but they have changed as the lyrical elements merge with the dramatic elements. The “B” sections as well are not mere repetitions but imaginative and increasingly colorful elaborations of the original material. The composer has made good use of the range of techniques available to viola including some beautifully expressive passages of harmonics played with taste and clarity by Harold Levin. It would be worthwhile to comment on the quality of Mr. Levin’s performance, exceptionally well-prepared, communicative, and emotionally effective. The final “A” section leads into a coda with some of the character of a cadenza as well, allowing Mr. Levin a final opportunity to share with the audience, with both drama and flair, a moment of intense lyricism beautifully expressed.
“Autumn Requiem” by Barton and Priscilla McLean
One of the longest works presented at the conference, this multimedia memoriam includes both vocal and instrumental performances by the composers in combination with live processed electroacoustic music as well as electronic amplification and reprocessing of the acoustical sounds. The film which is an integral part of the overall structure is itself heavily processed, edited, and distorted through photographic processing techniques that are a direct analogy to the complex processing in the music itself. Accoustical instruments in this piece included violin, soprano recorders, E-flat clarinet, and an extensive array of percussion. Mrs. McLean provided most of the vocals, both sung and spoken, using texts from Thoreau, often singing while simultaneously playing other instruments. The electronic modifications and distortions of her voice were particularly well-planned and effective. This was not a routine paen to autumn. The visuals and music together created an intense, sometimes even frightening, view of loss. This is not the fall of leaves last autumn but an autumn experienced in Dreamtime, otherworldly. The music is dense even when the instrumentation is lightest, and the sense of loss is profound. The work was managed and performed with great technical and interpretive skill by both composers/performers.
“Strikes and Resonances” by Jason Bahr
In his program notes, the composer describes this wonderful work as an arch form not unlike the rondo form used in Pellegrini’s earlier viola work. Grant Braddock gave an amazing, even stunning, performance from memory of a work that is rhythmically, harmonically, and melodically rich. Full of delightful and original musical ideas that contrast rapidfire striking and sustained resonances, this work could easily have fallen apart of its own extremes, but Jason Bahr has integrated the elements into a compelling, artistic, and well-structured whole that sustains audience interest for the entire eleven minutes. Grant Braddock’s performance, which was energetic and driven, assured that the overall architectural integrity of the piece was communicated with no loss of precision and delicacy in the details. His near presto alternations of mallet strikes and rim strikes in several passages looked to be effortlessly executed though clearly they could only have been done by a first-rate performer at the top of his form. A great performance of a terrific work.
“Sonata for Trumpet and Piano” by James Willey
A beautiful work for trumpet in a performance that justly brought Frank Gabriel Campos, trumpet, and Diane Birr, piano, back to the stage for repeated bows when it was over. It represents a significant challenge to write an intimate work of this type for so extroverted an instrument as the trumpet. Considerable imagination is required to balance the two instruments, each capable of such a wide range of performing styles, in a piece of this length. James Willey has succeeded admirably. The work takes on the challenge full bore opening with a clarion call on the trumpet with an equally strong respone from the piano. The first movement has a motoric energy, full of syncopated and metrical surprises, that carries both instruments headlong through the development of the material. Although the second movement begins meditatively, it builds in intensity as it unfolds, recalling some of the rhythmic and dramatic sensibilities of the first movement before dying away. The scherzo brings back some of the momentum and drive of the first movement but with a swaggering, tongue-in-cheek quality that elicited smiles even from the performers. Reminscences of swing and echoes of big band intertwined delightfully. This contrasted with the quiet and solemn opening of the final movement which brought to the overall work a feel of retrospective solemnity. Joy and tragedy were intertwined and inseparable. The material of the finale is developed gradually yielding way to a touching maestoso melody in the trumpet, elaborated by the piano, that joins senses of sadness, nostalgia, pride, and love in a moving conclusion to an incredibly inventive and colorful work.
Concert II, Friday, April 9, 8:00pm
Submitted by John Bilotta
“Gen’ei no Mai” by John Bilotta
I will forego any temptation to comment on my own music other than to express my appreciation to Meghan Miller, flute, and Steve Sanchez, clarinet, for another outstanding and expressive performance of this work.
“re-made” by Thomas Licata
The first of a series of two-channel tape works at the evening concert, this fascinating piece was heard to great advantage in Wadsworth auditorium. The room’s built-in sound system made it possible for the audience to truly feel they were sitting inside the music rather than hearing it projected from a fixed spot in front of them. Thomas Licata’s piece opened up in this setting, surrounding the audience with the crackling, sometimes electric sounds of his score. Beginning quietly then building to a dramatic climax, this piece gave this listener the overwhelming sensation of sitting in an ice cave deep in the heart of an enormous glacier, listening with both awe and fear to the appearance of cracks in the ice above. We will claim that as a purely subjective reaction of one audience member, but it was a reaction that generated an exciting and exhilarating experience.
“lemon; birch” by Jerry Tabor
In this two-channel electronic work, Jerry Tabor has built a broad work of elaborately constructed and interrelated detail. In his program notes, the composer discusses how two seemingly unrelated trees provide a model of objects that are, in fact, deeply interconnected on different levels. This metaphor provided a basis for the contrast, transformation, reappearance, and intertwining of musical ideas which built a structural framework onto which near improvisatory elements could be added. The variety of sounds and the transformation of musical ideas in terms of timbre built up an effective piece of sound imagery that held the attention of the listener from beginning to end.
“Snow of Ages” by Chin-Chin Chen
An exciting work in three movements, this electronic piece focused on the possibilities of sound manipulation in three different mediums–wood blocks, tam-tams, and metal wind chimes. Each medium was used in one movement. Having heard some of the composer’s other works, the composer’s ability to find imaginative and expressive qualities in limited materials really comes to the fore here. Not only do we have the contrast of timbres implied in the three radically different materials used, but they seem to create at a higher level an evolution of meaning as the work progresses. The first movement’s use of wood blocks has an almost organic quality taken from the natural world which then evolves into the profoundly moving but metalic and decidely unorganic sounds of the tam-tams. The wind chimes in the final movement, rather than seeming a second non-organic element, in fact create an almost spiritual quality incorporating some timbral connections with the second movement and gestural connections with the first. The overall effect is one of a journey that takes us from home and to a parallel place far and yet near to home.
“Panic; Melancholy” by Vera Ivanova
The last of the two-channel electronic works in this evening’s concert, these humanistic and deeply felt works bring electronic techniques into the heart of the beast–they manage to express aspects of the human experience through an artistic medium that is not often associated with such deeply felt emotions. Through the electronic manipulation of both natural and artifical sounds, the composer has created two dramatic scenes for a spellbound audience. “Panic” succeeds from the opening gestures to communicate the obsessive-compulsive spinning of the mind in a state of terror and flight. Extremely effective, it not only communicates the artistic concept of panic, it draws the audience into it. And yet, as compelling and rich a work as “Panic” is, this audience member was stunned by the expressive majesty of “Melancholy” as the electronically manipulated voice of soprano Judith Kaplan emerged from the soundscape of the second piece. Dramatic and heart-wrenching, at the end of this masterfully constructed journey through anguish, one came away with the sensation of having witnessed a deeply felt if not wholly understood Greek tragedy.
“Bach Variations” by Liviu Marinescu
First, an acknowledgement of Stephen Swan’s assured, powerful, and aggressive performance of the alto saxophone in this muscular work. There is a core strength and drive in this piece that Stephen found and communicated to the audience through an array of dramatic and lyrical musical gestures. The work begins with a fairly extended introduction for the alto sax before at a decisive moment when, on a forceful low note, the sax and tape meet in a breathtaking explosion of live and recorded saxophone sounds. A word too on the skillfully prepared tape part–no mere accompaniment of the live instrument, the taped sounds were carefully conceived in terms of the overall development of the musical structure. One without the other would have been inconceivable. As the work unfolds, we get an occasional, but not obvious, hint of the original Bach material on which the piece is based but it is so skillfully interwoven within the overall atonal context that it is not until the very end that we hear the familiar notes quietly emerging from the matrix. It is a well-conceived and touching artistic gesture: all the drama, interplay, and development that have gone before have reached a moment of quiet revelation and nostalgic, but unsentimental, reflection.
“Trio” by Anneliese Weibel
The members of the performing trio gave a well-conceived and well-executed performance of this new work for viola, violoncello, and piano. Linda Kirkwood, James Kirkwood, and Amy Stanley jumped into the dramatic and metrically challenging first movement with enthusiasm and conviction. The rightness of the composer’s idea to substitute the viola for the violin in the standard piano trio became evident early on. The richer tones and intermediate registeral possibilities of the viola eliminated the timbral gap that sometimes seems to exist in the standard trio instrumentation. With the piano’s powerful rhythmically-driven chords and the melodic and rhythmic interjections of the viola and cello, the first movement created an atmosphere of excitement and energy which eventually dissolved into a quieter contrasting section. This allowed the strings to express the highly lyrical nature of the first movement’s middle section. After an abbreviated return to the energetic music of the opening, the first movement ends on a surprisingly quiet tone, a gesture which we only understand at the conclusion of the entire work. The second movement is dominated by the two string instruments with occasional interjections by the piano. The stasis and meditative quality of the second movement helps dissipate some of the accumulated energy of the first movement in a delicate lyricism. The third movement, in a reminiscence of the Hungarian cymbalon, opens on the piano with a colorful flourish that would be unmistakeable regardless of what instrument it had been played on. The strings enter and the melodic and harmonic materials are developed through the interplay of the three instruments. This movement, in spite of its distinctive cymbalon character, successfully pulls together qualities of the previous movements. There are energetic moments reminiscent of the first movement translated through the sound quality and gestures of the cymbalon, often heard in the piano, then echoed in the strings. And there are numerous moments of quiet lyricism echoing the second movement although in a completely different musical context. The overall effect of the finale is a union of opposites previously presented but expressed through the joyousness of a delightful folk instrument, as if the earlier music had been suddenly refracted through a prism.
Concert I, continued (Friday, April 9, 4pm)
Submitted by John Bilotta
“No Reason Why” by Phillip Schroeder
A serene, meditative etude for piano solo, this work establishes a delicate pattern of sounds in three registers of the piano beginning high and balancing with motivic patterns in the low and mid-registers. The patterns and pitches vary over time revealing, as the piece progresses, that there is an underlying harmonic plan expressed very slowly and which generates a sense of events on a the timescale of nature rather than art. Jeri-mae Astolfi performed the work with assurance, delicacy and impeccable timing. Atmospheric yet constantly absorbing, these were moments of gentle movement captured in repose.
“Changes 3: Palindromes” by Paul Epstein
This work too unfolded slowly over time through Paul Epstein’s translation of the linguistic concept of the palindrome into musical terms. The melodic material was evolved in the first violin starting with the first and last notes only, then gradually inserting with each repetition the next two notes at either extreme until the melody had been completely presented. Then, like a ball of yarn, it was unraveled. This process of musical unfolding and folding was accompanied by a pattern of drones on the second violin. Anything but an intellectual exercise, the piece had a fiddle-music-like quality as if one were overhearing or remembering a distant pair of folk musicians. A charming and evocative work, it was well performed by violinists Jeff Loudon and Alex Sovronsky who ably communicated the work’s musical structure in their performance.
“Selected Planets” by Samuel Pellman
The only multimedia work of the first concert, Samuel Pellman’s electronic scores depicting three of the planets (Mercury, Saturn, Uranus) under the poetic titles of Messenger, Guirlandes, Vaporis accompany abstracted films of natural phenomena (snow, microscopic creatures, among others) which, through the processes of editing and modification seems to create analogous planetary worlds. The music is expertly crafted of acoustic and electronic sounds manipulated to great effect. The marriage of sound and sight in these works was particularly effective. The films were beautifully edited, dramatic and visually rich. The music met the images head on amplifying and contrasting with its own ideas of the common ground between science and art. A minor problem with the DVD which interrupted the third movement briefly, did not detract from the beauty of the overall concept and execution.
Friday, April 09, 2004
2004 SCI Region II Conference
April 9-10, 2004
State University of New York, Geneseo
Hosted by Anneliese Weibel
submitted by John Bilotta
“Pioneer X” by Jay Batzner
Of the three performances heard in the past few months, this one was the strongest overall. Jonathan Kruger played the trumpet with command and strength at the first station giving the overall piece a clear base from which to develop. His strong, forceful statement of the core melodic and intervalic ideas gave greater continuity and meaning to the successive stations. His transitions from post to post were smooth and integrated into the overall performance. His clear lines and musical gestures made the connections between the early material and its later transformations tighter. This is an excellent performance piece requiring a trumpet player with both the musical and stage skills to pull all the pieces together and Jonathan succeeded admirably.
“Chronopolis” by Franklin Cox
A stunning, even breathtaking, virtuoso work given an extraordinary performance by Lisa Cella. The work falls approximately into three large sections played without pause. Although he mines the full range of extended performance techniques for the flute (including multiphonics), the composer has done so with exquisite musical judgement and taste. The work evokes an imaginary world dominated by its concern with time yet does so without ever sounding mechanistic. There is a level of energy and passion throughout the work, whether the quieter opening movement which uses flutter-tonguing as the base performance technique, to the scherzo-like second movement, and the colorful and dramatic finale. The work is tied back to the beginning with reminiscences of flutter-tonguing and key clicks. Evocative, descriptive, and exciting, this is an outstanding work for flute and we look forward to other opportunities to hear it played again with such skill and enthusiasm.
“Nightwood” by James Chaudoir
Another woodwind work employing extended techniques, this incredible work for soprano recorder was riveting. One would hardly have guessed before hearing this piece, that the recorder was capable of such diverse and absorbing sounds. The composer performed the work himself with exceptional skill and conviction. Built into a complex structure from a few basic motifs, “Nightwood” presented the listener with a beautifully integrated set of sound qualities, timbres, and effects that never failed to communicate musically. As in the previous piece, multiphonics were employed, along with humming and singing gestures in parallel with the recorder. Several of the overblowing/fingering methods gave the convincing impression of electronic sounds and distortions to great effect. Musically, the work created a sound world of its own blending, what at times, seemed to be folk or indigenous effects with more abstract musical ideas in a unique and captivating fabric.