Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Music 10 Composers 1

Another post by Maria Grenfell. :)
The title of the concert held on Tuesday 29 June really sounds like an imaginary World Cup score.  Fortunately, in this case, the composers won and there wasn’t a vuvuzela within coo-ee.  Sorry, that’s my fake Australianness coming out, while surrounded by Americans here in the beautiful Swiss alps...

The first concert of works by participant composers featured a wide variety of pieces that we have come to expect during this week of multi-faceted music-making.  Opening the program was “Quartet (after...)” by Wenhui Xie.  This is a re-working of material from her Symphony no. 1, and commemorates the tragic loss of many children during the 2008 Chinese earthquake.  Long static lines were punctuated by sharp gestures, breath tones and key clicks from clarinet, circular motions on violin strings, speech from the percussionist, and playing inside the piano with fishing line.  Absolute control was required by the players, and it was a dramatic way to begin the evening.

Sarah Gibson’s piece “Breathe out, Sleep in” touched a familiar chord with all the composers in the room, about the stress of not being able to sleep while trying to reach a composition deadline.  Dreamy sections alternated with faster sections characterised by scurrying lines and rhythmic piano writing, then the piece gradually died away as the composer falls asleep.  This was a motivic piece with a strong musical arc.

Following the dreamy ending of Sarah’s piece was “a trois” by Pittsburgh-based Colombian composer, Federico Garcia, who has impressed us with staunch support of his soccer team throughout the week – not to mention his fine compositions and perceptive comments in master classes.  “A trois” for violin, percussion and piano is a vivace motivic and virtuosic piece that is an experiment with a new style.  The striking rhythmic opening gave way to a chromatic motive in all registers, and sustained a sense of foreboding throughout.

“now is the blue” by Jenny Olivia Johnson was a beautifully poetic piece inspired by a 3 a.m. drive through small-town Massachusetts while listening to Samuel Barber on a rainy April night.  Repetitive motives triggered electronic clicks and processed vocalisations from the composer on her laptop, while the bass clarinet and cello played long plaintive melodies creating a soundscape that emerged into a dramatic climax and then faded out.

Chicago composer Carolyn O’Brien gave a warm and endearing introduction to her piece “Impromptu”, in which small musical gestures triggered other gestures.  Unexpected colours such as high cello harmonics combining with piccolo in the same range were part of this impressive piece.  Repeated motives followed by long sustained phrases utilising vibraphone motor, giving an other-worldly ‘wah-wah’ sound.  I particularly enjoyed the sense of space and use of silence.

“Trajectories” by Kyle Werner is a short piece based on the migratory flight patterns of birds in New York City.  Singular entries from flute, cello and piano wove an interesting continuous line and built up a contrapuntal texture that was characterised by its clarity.

Finally on the concert was a piece by young Cincinnati composer Ben Wallace called “The Punctuality of Arriving on Time”, for six percussionists.  It has been too long since I played in the toy box that is the contemporary percussion ensemble, so I was curious about this piece having heard a rehearsal of it earlier in the week.  Ben has experimented with minimalism and this was an energising piece that was rhythmically grounded in an ostinato of sorts played by two players on shakers, while four other players used an array of gongs, cymbals and almglocken either laid flat on a table or suspended from racks.  Rhythmic patterns morphed from one to another against the constancy of the shakers, in the overall shape of a very gradual ritardando in which lower-pitched sounds began to emerge from the relentless texture.  The result was a hypnotic gamelan effect but without the cyclic patterns, and eventually led to a complete stop, like a train.  I was interested to see the “score”, which consisted of small rhythmic motives and cues to start moving to different instruments once other players were playing specific instruments and motives.  It worked.  A great night for all!

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