All in all an inspiring evening; we need new works to continue to expand our ears’ ability to capture new sounds.
Autumn Season, Concert #2. Contemporary Chamber Music, Church of the Advent Library Concert Series at 30 Brimmer Street, Boston, MA, Friday, September 23.
By Anthony J. Palmer
Rain was no obstacle to the congenial, virtually full-house crowd of music lovers to attend the second concert of the autumn season at Boston’s Church of the Advent. Old modern and newly written pieces filled out the agenda, chosen by Matt Samolis, to everyone’s satisfaction judging by the applause each performance received.
Junko Simons, a superb cellist of uncommon sympathy with the composers she represented, played the 1955 George Crumb Sonata for Solo Cello with pizazz. Following up later with Bunraku for Solo Cello by Toshiro Mayuzumi from 1960, she again showed her command of these complex technically and musically challenging works.
I met Mayuzumi in Tokyo in 1985, and his works call for an authentic rendering of Japanese sensibilities through the Western musical medium. Junko supplied that necessary empathy. Not performed in America much, Mayuzumi ought to be. His Nirvana and Mandala symphonies are certainly worthy of a reading by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Peter H. Bloom and Mary Jane Rupert, finely tuned musicians on flute and harp respectively, showed a full array of techniques written for their works from recent composition by Richard Nelson, Elizabeth Vercoe, and Pamela Marshall. Bloom exhibited his amazing versatility on flute, at various times going from C flute, to alto, to piccolo, and bass, as called for by the score.
What does a contemporary composer do in this age of vastly expanded compositional technique? Play of Light by Nelson sought to express through a series of vignettes the various possibilities of the harp and flute combination. The usual harp arpeggios prevailed in sections while the flute flutter tongued its way through ever changing pitch clusters through the full flute range. Some improvisation seemed to pervade certain sections, and the harp exhibited occasional two-level melodic intentions while being supported by arpeggiated passages. Nelson explored in the approximately 10-minute piece a variety of pitch bends and puffs as well as interesting variations on the main thematic material.
Vercoe’s To Music was based on passages from Anna Akhamatova’s poetry (in translation as noted in the program) and required Bloom, as the single performer, to read lines of the poetry prior to the section of music. This work was less satisfying to me for two reasons. One was the brevity of each section, which gave less of an opportunity for exploration of the poetic mood and thus came off as too episodic. The other was that the flute expressions were built largely on techniques and failed to find a full musical expression beyond warbles, pitch bends, brief bi-sonic segments, flutters, and trills. The work is from 2003 and perhaps would benefit from a rewrite that contained more explorations in each episode and perhaps fewer starts and stops.
Pamela Marshall’s Zoa was more appealing. There was a real effort to incorporate some non-usual harp playing—slapping the strings, rubbing a sheet on certain strings, using a plastic card to effect pitch to create a buzzing sound, taps on the sounding board—that I found to be incorporated nicely into the total fabric of the approximately 11-minute work. The flute used much more of the pure tone of which it is eminently capable—in addition to its more varied techniques—for the sake of musical inventiveness.
All in all an inspiring evening; we need new works to continue to expand our ears’ ability to capture new sounds but also because there are dozens of these small venues around the greater Boston area that offer opportunity to hear what is going on in the world of music composition.
Works such as these performed this evening have fewer opportunities for exposure in the more commercial venues, including the many universities and conservatories in the area. These works were short enough to be played twice on the same program. I would like to have heard the Vercoe work again, for example, to be sure my first evaluation was not denying me a better experience.