Caught two new music concerts this week. Well, actually, neither of them was billed or thought of as a new music concert, and yet both of them were.
Heard clarinetist Igor Begelman perform with his long-time collaborator Tatiana Goncharova on Saturday night. Anyone who has heard him play should now expect a long line of superlatives – there really isn’t anyone who can do more with that instrument. He is a consummate virtuoso, not just in the number of notes he can pack into one hour of music (which is more than most clarinetists play in a week) but in his ability to instantly adjust his sound and the character of his playing in response to an immense range of styles.
The concert opened with Lutoslawski’s Dance Preludes, a set of charming compositions based on Polish folk dances. I’m finding that I appreciate Lutoslawski most in his least monumental works. Another highlight was the premiere of David Winkler’s Begelmania, a virtuosic showpiece well-tailored for the instrument and the instrumentalist, including a polyphonic passage of nasty low trills pocked by pristine melody notes in the top register.
But my favorite piece of the evening was the North Carolina premiere of Alexander Krasotov’s Rhapsody on Hebrew Themes. Krasotov is a Ukrainian composer I haven’t heard before, and he seems to be ungooglable, but he’s someone I’d like to hear more of. Apparently he teaches at the Odessa Conservatory and wrote this piece around 1990. The title didn’t promise much – I can’t normally get very excited over yet another virtuosic medley – but it was potent stuff, very surprising and engrossing.
The other concert (which I had to leave at intermission to put out an administrative fire) was a performance by the NC School of the Arts Percussion Ensembles. All of the music was from the last 35 years, including two parts of a 1974 James Tenney triptych: Crystal Canon for Edgard Varese and Wake for Charles Ives. The third part of the triptych – Hocket for Henry Cowell – will be played here in February.
These pieces afford a snapshot of minimalism in the pervasive form it took in the early 1970s: composer sets a process in motion, then adopts a Voltairish perspective, standing back and watching the music unfold. It was a time when minimalism was still under the powerful influence of Cage, with his interest in limiting the composer’s impact on how the music sounds. Crystal Canon treats the main theme of Ionisation to a four-part canon for snare drums. The canonic writing is strict, the piece unfolds without any surprises, and concludes without much fanfare. The music manages, like much minimalism of the time, to be both ultra-rational and anti-intellectual.
Wake is for four toms, beginning with a very long, simple solo that is simultaneously rigid and curiously plaintive. As the other drums enter one by one, we are treated to a dirge of sorts, which is all the more solemn for being completely unembellished.
I’ve been struck by how much recent music I’ve been hearing live lately, so I tabulated the works that have been performed here so far this season by century, with some interesting results:
Eleven performances in five weeks: six faculty concerts, three student ensemble concerts, two guest artist concerts. The number of works per century score as follows:
18th century: 8
19th century: 9
20th century: 26
21st century: 6
The twenty-first century seems grossly over-represented, considering the other centuries were twenty times longer.
Or, another way to look at it: Smallish city, conservatory trained musicians – looks like it’s time to start complaining about the stranglehold 20th-century music has on the repertoire.