Huang Ruo: Chamber Concerto Cycle
International Contemporary Ensemble/Huang Ruo, conductor
This is a recording of four chamber concerti by the composer Huang Ruo, who is currently a DMA student at Juilliard. The works are: Chamber Concerto No. 1, “Yueh Fei,” Chamber Concerto No. 2, “The Lost Garden,” Chamber Concerto No. 3, “Divergence,” and Chamber Concerto No. 4, “Confluence.” I probably like the subtitles most of all. The music, competently performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble, struck me as a combination of Western and Eastern music, but more on the “chinoiserie” end of things. It also came across to me as accomplished music, certainly very commendable and advanced work for a graduate student, but following a safe course rather than striking out and finding new ground. After a few minutes I was genuinely uninterested. That perhaps reflects more my own taste and attention span (or lack thereof), but I felt there is more compelling music in the first five minutes of the average piece by Somei Satoh than there is in this entire album.
I hate dissing new music, especially when written by someone who is not fully established (although with a dedicated album on Naxos, Huang Ruo is certainly “not too shabby,” as Adam Sandler would say). But in all honesty, much of the music was something of a hybrid between Western and Eastern styles, without any real sense of what makes each unique and beautiful. It’s more of a mashup than anything else. A lot of different influences abound, which is fine (all of us ultimately betray our various influences in our works), but after listening to this album I have no sense of the composer Huang Ruo; rather, I have a sense of the synthesist Huang Ruo who melds together many disparate styles and influences. I suspect one of his influences had to have been George Crumb, and I had a distinct sense of “been there, done that” when I listened to the disc for the first time.
On a more positive note, I should mention that this is the first release of the International Contemporary Ensemble, which as I recall was a participant in the first Sequenza 21 concert back in November. Their performance is first-rate, and I should add that this is no mean feat, as the performers must engage in a lot of musical activity outside their usual instrumental roles (speaking, vocalizing, etc).