Concert Review: The New Gallery Concert Series — For the Eye and the Ear
By Aaron Keebaugh
The combined concert and gallery experience made one reconsider old clichés — E.M. Forster’s advice that art “only connect” took on an amplified resonance.
The New Gallery Concert Series, presented by the Longy School of Music of Bard College at Longy’s Pickman Hall, presents all the art that its name suggests. For 23 years, the organization has paired new music — much of it with the ink still wet — alongside freshly made sculptures and paintings.
True to form, its season finale at Pickman Hall on Thursday night was like a tour through a modern art gallery, where an imaginative arrangement of lines, colors, and textures reinforced the aural worlds generated by four intriguing world premieres.
Here, art and music each reciprocated one another. Mary Ince’s paintings drew inspiration from works by Elena Ruehr and Beth Denisch, while Anthony R. Green and Michael J. Veloso composed arresting new scores inspired by their study of Cicely Carew’s abstract sculpture and images. The combined concert and gallery experience made one reconsider old clichés — E.M. Forester’s advice that art “only connect” took on an amplified resonance.
Ince’s paintings, for starters, are “musical” in style. On the surface, her jagged shapes and splotched colors suggest violent imagery. But take a closer look. Scanning her canvases, your eyes will discern a lyrical continuity.
Similarly, Beth Denisch’s Star V unfolds in scattered arpeggios and gestures. Scored for piano and percussion (like every work on Thursday’s program), the music explores, across its three movements, the relationship between freedom and control. Sarah Bob’s piano figures flickered and faded throughout an uneasy stasis. In support, Aaron Trant layered a variety of metallic pulses from cymbals, chimes, and glockenspiel.
In the second movement, the two combine in Debussian flourishes before the music dissolves in dark dissonances. Bob plucked the strings inside the piano, taking part in a pointillist dialogue with Trant’s hammered xylophone chords.
The final movement is all zest and panache. Denisch told listeners that she derived the rhythm from the Fibonacci Sequence. Maybe so. But it sounded like an off-kilter swing, with Bob and Trant engaged in a jam session.
Elena Ruehr’s Trust the System offered a subtler combination of rhythm and lyricism. For this attractive miniature, Ruehr reflected upon a childhood wish to play the drums before being told by a teacher that “drums are for boys.”
Given that sexist memory, it is no surprise that a sense of agitation is evident through the piece’s sweeping piano lines and freely placed tom-tom hits. The composition initially sounds like a generic “jazz standard.” Drum figures trace the frame of each soft phrase with beguiling energy. Like Ince’s painting, the music attempts to tether wild emotions. Bob and Trant dramatized this tension with palpable conviction.
In contrast, Carew’s artwork provides solace through its soft shapes and mixed pastels. She described the act of creation as reaching into a void, where her materials take shape in surprising ways. That unpredictability was conveyed, musically, by composers Green and Veloso. They both embraced entropy via propulsive rhythms.
Cast in four movements that connect without pause, Green’s Color Conversation offers an introspective dialogue between disparate sounds that eventually erupt into a frenzy.
The music opens simply, with rattles and swishes accompanying faint piano arpeggios. Dissonances throb gently as the figures coalesce into a temporary groove. All of this gentle agitation gives way to a concluding concourse — between gongs and toy piano — that shimmers in the final bars. Bob and Trant performed with the necessary grit and delicacy.
Veloso’s Manifold Spiral transformed the duo into figurative rock stars. Inspired as much by the motion of subatomic particles as by Carew’s artwork, this score churns restlessly over five movements. A driving, hard-rock zeal is evident in the outer movements. Others set up a hypnotic equilibrium, where chords undulate beneath halo effects from bowed vibraphone keys. The opening fray returns as the music drives to its final — and sudden — release. Bob and Trant rendered this wild gamboling with the called-for seismic vitality. At that point, and so many others, art and music truly connected.
Aaron Keebaugh has been a classical music critic in Boston since 2012. His work has been featured in the Musical Times, Corymbus, Boston Classical Review, Early Music America, and BBC Radio 3. A musicologist, he teaches at North Shore Community College in both Danvers and Lynn.