Thursday, May 3rd: CUNY Composers Alliance. It’s more than collegial loyalty that compels me to mention last week’s student composers’ concert at the CUNY Graduate Center. We presented a great program of ambitious works ranging from a pocket violin concerto in the Romantic tradition, to a multi-media electronic sound-scape, to an insouciantly postmodern large-ensemble work, to gritty European modernism, and beyond. (There was also some tinkly, diatonic piano improvisation.) Programs do not get more pluralistic than this, and the performances were solid.
Friday, May 4th: Serge Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet, NYC Ballet. Ballet, take two. Certainly the more accessible of the two recent ballet visits, Peter Martins’s new choreography to Prokofiev’s standby struck me as beautiful and enjoyable, though not so imaginative as Ballanchine’s work from the week before. But I still wish I understood the semiotics of ballet better. I was on firmer ground evaluating the risotto at Café Fiorello’s afterwards: not bad, but overpriced and salty.
Saturday May 5th: TALEA Ensemble at Juilliard. A potent new music ensemble/collective of composers and performers, TALEA’s debut program of works by Jonathan Harvey, Salvatore Sciarrino, Gérard Grisey, Anthony Cheung and Alexandre Lunsqui was serious business. Cheung’s “Ebbing Flow” (clarinet, violin, cello, and piano) avoided the sustained soupiness that seems to be the typical pitfall of spectralist (and spectralist-inspired) composers. Flautist Daria Binkowski was awe-inspiring in Harvey’s “Nataraja” and Sciarrino’s “L’orizonte luminoso Di Aton,” the latter requiring the flautist to inhale through the instrument. Grisey’s “Talea” closed the concert, and, while the piece is fierce and incredible, it struck me, surprisingly, as too short and unbalanced formally. Conductor Vince Lee kept the larger pieces under admirable control.
Sunday May 6th: Tom Cipullo, Glory Denied. Brooklyn College Opera Theater. BC hosted the world premiere of Cipullo’s opera based on the wartime and post-wartime ordeals of Vietnam veteran Col. Jim Thompson, the longest-held US prisoner of the war. Cipullo’s music can veer into syrupy Lydian-land, but the first act holds up relatively well. The second act unfortunately sacrifices musical and dramatic continuity for applause-nabbing solo arias, and the show ends up lacking impact despite its loaded subject matter. As Thompson’s unfaithful wife Alyce, soprano Gretchen Mundinger, a Masters student, clearly showed she’s ready already for a bigger stage.