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Delighted to see one of our favorites,  Darcy James Argue, among the 2015 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship winners announced yesterday.

The Guggenheim Foundation gives out annual fellowships in a range of disciplines including academia, the arts and science. The organization says they are “appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise” and this year’s 175 scholars were drawn from a pool of 3,100 applicants. The organization’s website does not list the amount, saying that the grants vary, “taking into consideration the Fellows’ other resources and the purpose and scope of their plans.”

2015 Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellows for Music Composition:

George Lewis, Steve Lehman, Darcy James Argue, Matthew Barnson, Richard Carrick, Sean Shepherd, Rand Steiger, Amy Williams, Etienne Charles, Chihchun Chi-sun Lee and Andreia Pinto-Correia.

Past award winners in this category include George Antheil, Aaron Copland, Alex Mincek and Vivian Fung.

 

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RC20April 1, 2015 was the date and the REDCAT Theater at Disney Hall was the site of a concert by the Southland Ensemble of the early music of the late Robert Ashley. A full crowd was in attendance with only a scattering of empty seats.

The Entrance (1965) was first on the program and this was video projected behind the stage showing a keyboard with stacks of pennies being placed on the keys. There were speakers in the back of the theater where the tones could be heard and as a new stack of pennies was to a key added the resulting tone could be heard entering what was a continuous chord. The stacks grew in number and eventually the sound produced was a large cluster chord that seemed to cast a spell in the theater – just loud enough to be heard but never very definite and always changing as stacks of coins were moved about or added to the keyboard. In fact this video was projected during the entire concert, providing a sonic foundation for all that followed. Robert Ashley, quoted in the program notes, stated: “I have never understood what ‘The Entrance’ means. It was ‘inspired’. I would guess that it means something like the way to get into another, different frame of mind – that makes the performance of the other pieces possible.” This continuous realization of The Entrance was well-suited to the REDCAT performance space and consistent with Ashley’s vision of it.

She Was a Visitor (1967) featured a female soloist spotlighted in one corner of the dark stage precisely repeating the words “She was a visitor.” As this continues, the listener becomes aware of musical suggestions heard in the patterns of speech. The audience was invited to join in by choosing a sound from the recitation and then vocalize that sound quietly for the length of one breath. There was some participation in this and it was most effective when sustained. Small pockets of sound arose among the audience in the darkened theater at varying times and this was an appealing addition to the repetition of the phrase. It was as if small communities of sound formed, disbanded and reformed in subtle collaboration with the soloist. That She Was a Visitor extracted these fascinating bits of musicality from simple repeated speech was a credit to the focus of the soloist and the theatricality of the staging. Such was the power of the moment that applause was held – it was as if we were witnessing the arc of a larger story as the stage was prepared for next piece.

The Wolfman (1964) followed and this piece was described in the program notes as “… treating the cavity of the performer’s mouth as a chamber that influences the nature of the feedback heard by the audience.” Accordingly, a very brave James Klopfeisch took up his position center stage under a spotlight and a microphone. Off to the right, Casey Anderson operated some equipment that played back recorded voices and generated various electronic sounds. The soloist began by humming a steady note into the microphone and attempting, with varying success, to induce feedback into the theater sound system. Different vocal techniques were used including sung notes and long, sustained shouts. As the piece progressed, the beeps and chirps of the accompanying electronic sounds became louder and seemed to compete with the soloist. The cries of the soloist into the microphone became more plaintive as the electronics gained in strength – perhaps as a metaphor for the individual trying to be heard in a society filled with informational clutter. At one point Klopfleisch began imbibing water in an attempt to change the sonic properties of his throat and mouth in order to match the power of the ever-rising electronics. The increasing distress of the singer generated an instinctive empathy for the individual striving to be heard. Eventually the electronic chatter slowed and then stopped, leaving just the soloist to bring the piece to a quiet ending. The stage lights darkened leaving just the enigmatic sound of the cluster chord from the video. The Wolfman is a memorable piece that gains its power from the courage of the soloist and the precision of the lighting, staging and sound systems – all of which was featured in this excellent performance.

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PiE Wild Beasts - picture 158The spaciously comfortable sanctuary of the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena, CA was the site for a concert titled gnarwhallaby: The Wild Beasts. On a pleasant Sunday evening, March 29, 2015, a nice crowd gathered to hear the six pieces on the program that included a world premiere. The concert was produced by People Inside Electronics and featured the formidable playing of the gnarwhallaby ensemble combined with historical as well as contemporary electronic sounds.

A question and answer session preceded the concert and a brief history of gnarwhallaby was recounted. It was noted that the instrumental combination of the group comprises a sort of miniature orchestra with piano, woodwind, brass and strings represented. This combination tends to drive their repertoire and much of their material has come from the late 20th century music of Eastern Europe, although they have performed a number of works by contemporary Los Angeles composers.

The first piece was Pour quatre [For Four] (1968) by Włodzimierz Kotoński (1925-2014) and this began with a series of light, rapid runs of notes from several instruments, played independently and with no common beat. Sforzando entrances by individual players appeared against this busy background and the overall effect was quite intriguing. As the piece continued, different duos of instruments would begin a section, be joined by a third instrument and then drift apart as the combinations reset. This gave rise to a procession of different textures of varying densities that was quite engaging. Although no electronics were used in this piece, the program notes state that Kotoński composed by “Eschewing strict meters, tempi and traditional score format in favor of a cue-based and texturally/temporally improvisational notational technique, the aesthetic of this piece is less like chamber music and more like the unpredictable and ineffable environment of the early electronic pieces.” All of the strong entrances were cleanly played and the wilder parts efficiently managed by gnarwhallaby, making Pour quatre the perfect reference point for the rest of the concert program.

Next was Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo (1971-72) by Andrzej Dobrowolski (1921 – 1990) and for this two large speakers were placed on each side of the piano that began the piece by emitting a loud rumble of thunder. A sustained and anxious sound followed and a crash from the piano dramatically signaled the entrance of the soloist. A variety of mechanical sounds, clicks and squeaks from the speakers were accompanied by a series of rapid runs on the keyboard and the alien feel of the electronics was offset by the more musical counterpoint in the piano. Different sounds came from different speakers – at times and the piano had to compete to be heard. The electronic sounds eventually settled into a menacingly low rumble, like some sinister alien presence lurking nearby in the shadows. The piano played lightly – but still sharply – as if reflecting the anxiety that was hanging in the air. In this charged atmosphere the piano evoked a mixture of dread and fear as if waiting for the creature to strike. The electronics now became more animated, like a pin ball machine, going faster and faster.  The piano responded with a series of frantic passages as if in a full panic, followed by a sudden crash and silence. Now alone, the piano issued quiet, but anxious notes as the electronics started up again with a dull roar that grew in volume, before finally fading completely away. Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo is a powerful and frightening piece of music that demonstrates how effectively electronic sounds can trigger primal emotions.

The Wild Beasts (1978) by Morton Subotnick (b. 1933) followed, for piano, trombone and electronic ghost score. This work was originally inspired by an exhibition of Les Fauves paintings, and Subotnick writes: “I was left with the impression that each subject was portrayed as ‘normal’, but that we were seeing this subject through a strangely prismatic atmosphere… an atmosphere comprised of rare and possibly ‘unearthly’ gases… an atmosphere in which normal expectations of color and shape would not exist. This was the visual counterpart to my ‘ghost’ idea, i.e. a traditional musical instrument played into an unusual and continually transforming atmosphere … an atmosphere in which the normal sound expectations would not exist.”

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holy1Geoff Nuttall, violinist for the St. Lawrence String Quartet and Director of Chamber Music for the SpoletoUSA Festival in Charleston SC,  just announced details of the 11 programs for the 33 concerts that will be performed at this year’s Festival . The series runs from Friday, May 22 through Sunday, June 7 and is sponsored by Bank of America.  I’ll be taking in a few of the performances and giving you a report.

Among the highlight of this year’s series is the world premiere of Control Freak for improvising singer and instrumental septet, composed by the 2015 composer-in-residence Mark Applebaum. A colleague of  Nuttall’s at Stanford University, Applebaum is known as the “mad scientist of music” because of his inventive compositional style and innovation with instruments. In addition to the premiere of his new piece, he will perform his Aphasia for hand gestures with pre-recorded sound as well as several pieces for blues piano. Applebaum performs on the first two programs; Control Freak premieres on Program III, performed by baritone Tyler Duncan, pianist Pedja Muzijevic, clarinetist Todd Palmer, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Geoff Nuttall, violist Daniel Phillips, and cellist Christopher Costanza.

“It’s going to be a varied and eclectic musical ride with Mark,” Nuttall says. “He’s an amazing blues and jazz pianist, which you’ll experience, and you’ll also get to witness an important moment in music history when we hear a new piece of art.”

Programs for this season’s series include well-known canonic jewels as well as new musical experiences with contemporary compositions and selections unearthed from past centuries. Among the new and newish pieces are Osvaldo Golijov’s Omaramor for cello, performed by Alisa Weilerstein; Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet, op. 11; and Andrew Norman’s Light Screens.

The chamber music series begins on Friday, May 22 at 1:00pm with Vivaldi’s Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe in B-flat Major, featuring violinist Livia Sohn and oboist James Austin Smith; Mark Applebaum’s Aphasia; and Dvořák’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major.

Nuttall has great taste and his eclectic pairings of compositions  spanning more than 400 years, are always entertaining, if a tad, quirky. Program IV will include two pieces by Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo, whose opera Paradise Interrupted has its world premiere at Spoleto Festival USA this season. “Flow I and II” will feature Huang Ruo on vocals, as well as Zhou Yi on pipa (Chinese lute) and other series artists, including Tara Helen O’Connor, who will abandon her usual flute for the djembe (West African drum). Huang Ruo’s compositional style often marries Chinese tradition with seemingly disparate cultures, as is also heard in Paradise Interrupted.

“It’s a great luxury to be able to bring Huang Ruo from the opera to the chamber stage.”  Nuttall says. “Audiences will be able to see the full portrait of a musician. This is a great example of the spirit of Spoleto—we have this vast canvas of disparate artistic offerings, and because the creative minds behind them are in the same place at the same time, new artistic connections are forged for both the musicians and the audience.”

This year, lutenist Kevin Payne joins the musicians on the Dock Street stage, opening the doors to repertoire from the Renaissance, including two John Dowland songs and an Elizabethan set with  Nuttall, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, and cellist Christopher Costanza; the lute is also featured on Baroque and contemporary works.  Payne is a member of Juilliard 415, the Buxtehude Consort, and the Peabody Consort, and was the first lutenist to be accepted to The Juilliard School, where he is pursuing a graduate diploma in historical plucked instruments.

Returning artists include baritone Tyler Duncan, pianist Pedja Muzijevic, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, clarinetist Todd Palmer, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Livia Sohn, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, pianist Inon Barnatan, violinist/violist Daniel Phillips, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, double bassist Anthony Manzo, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet (members of which are Mr. Nuttall, new second violinist Owen Dalby, Lesley Robertson, and Christopher Costanza). New to the series is composer Mark Applebaum, lutenist Kevin Payne, violinist Benjamin Beilman, and pianist Erika Switzer.

Led by  Nuttall, the St. Lawrence String Quartet—the Arthur and Holly Magill Quartet in Residence—celebrates its 25th anniversary during their 2014–15 season, including 20 years as part of the Bank of America Chamber Music series at Spoleto Festival USA. Making his ensemble debut from the Dock Street Theatre stage, Owen Dalby has been named as the new second violinist of the SLSQ. Dalby is a graduate of Yale University and is an acclaimed soloist and chamber musician. Currently based in New York, his relocation to Stanford University to be an artist-in-residence with his colleagues in the SLSQ will be a homecoming of sorts;  Dalby is a native of Berkeley.

This year’s festival will be Nuttall’s sixth season as chamber music director, a post that includes his introductions to each program from the stage. Of his ability to educate and entertain,The New York Times said: “Mr. Nuttall turns out to be chamber music’s Jon Stewart… while maintaining the high musical standards of the series, he has established a new style of presentation that juxtaposes the ridiculous with the sublime, delves into serious musicology and casually uses technology. In short, he is subtly redefining what a chamber music concert can be.”

Each of the 11 programs is performed three times with two performances daily at 11:00am and 1:00pm in the 463-seat Dock Street Theatre at 135 Church Street.

Full Schedule Continues After the Break

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The joyous news from Philadelphia today is that Bird Lives!  Opera Philadelphia is doing its first premiere in almost four decades and it’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,  composed by Daniel Schnyder, whose “thrilling classical-tinged jazz blend…constantly pushes the envelope” (Jazz Times), to a libretto by award-winning poet and playwright Bridgette Wimberly.  The new chamber opera was created for American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a nominee for the 2015 International Opera Male Singer of the Year Award.

Co-commissioned and co-produced with Gotham Chamber Opera, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD was conceived and written for Brownlee’s agile, expressive voice, which Schnyder likens to the color and technical virtuosity of Parker’s music. As the New York Times notes, the tenor “soars easily up to ringing top notes, high Cs and even higher. Mr. Brownlee’s singing is a model of bel canto style.”

Directed by Ron Daniels under the leadership of Music Director Corrado Rovaris, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD premieres in Opera Philadelphia’s Aurora Series for Chamber Opera, crowning the company’s 40th Anniversary Season with a five-performance run in the Kimmel Center’s intimate Perelman Theater (June 5–14). Tickets are available from Ticket Philadelphia at 215.893.1018 or operaphila.org.

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W10Art Share LA, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, was the scene of a concert Friday February 27, 2015 entitled Terrain featuring works by Brian Ferneyhough, Brian Griffeath-Loeb and Elizabeth Lutyens. The occasion was the first anniversary of the WasteLAnd ensemble and a nice crowd turned out for an evening of complex music and birthday cake.

 

The concert began with Recomposition #4 (2012) by Brian Griffeath-Loeb and this featured Mark Menzies as solo violin. According to the program notes “… Recomposition #4 takes Ferneyhough’s iconic violin solo, Intermedio alla Ciaccona, and subjects it to an array of transformations. The original is amplified, constricted, recolored, warped, looped, erased, and – on occasion – left unaltered, presenting a surreally divided consciousness that challenges both identity and authorship.”  This began with loud, intense chords in the higher notes and sharp, rapid runs that became very shrill at times. At other times the sound was softer, as when the the strings of the violin were gently rubbed by the bow. A variety of extended techniques were evident and at one point Mark Menzies was rapidly fingering the strings of the violin without using the bow – and just that slight contact sent out a series of ghostly tones that were barely audible in the Art Share performance space. As the piece progressed, Menzies seemed to be attacking the violin as the complexity and energy continued to build. There was a sense of being witness to a titanic struggle: the violinist as individual against the world. The piece concluded as a soft high tone slowly gathered strength until it sounded like a whistling tea kettle, followed by a sudden silence. This was a virtuoso performance by Mark Menzies and was received with sustained applause.

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Terrain (1991-1992), by Brian Ferneyhough was next and this again featured Mark Menzies as violin soloist, backed by an ensemble of eight instruments. Terrain has been described as a violin concerto reconfigured with modern forms and this seems entirely appropriate. The piece begins with an extended violin solo that is filled with rapid streams of notes, short bursts and punchy passages – all infused with the frenetic energy that is so characteristic of Ferneyhough’s music. As the other instruments join in there is a striking independence in the playing, with seldom any rhythmic cohesion between sections or the soloist. Add to that the quick runs and dissonant harmonies, it would seem to be a recipe for chaos. And yet, the overall feeling has a kind of organic textural wholeness – like looking at the shimmering surface of a lake or a choppy sea. The sound sometimes comes in waves – as in one passage when the brass surged together, centering the music temporarily. Terrain is full of allusions to powerful geologic forces operating deep within the earth – the shifting combinations and alignments of the various instruments keep the energy level high with the violin sometimes leading and sometimes lost in the mix. Hearing this music is a sort of aural equivalent of an abstract expressionist painting. The playing by WasteLAnd as conducted by Nicholas Deyoe was precise enough that all of the details came through clearly and Mark Menzies once again performed brilliantly.

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The London Symphony Orchestra announced today the appointment of Sir Simon Rattle as its Music Director.

He will take up his appointment in September 2017, following in the footsteps of previous Principal Conductors including André Previn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Sir Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev. As Music Director he will be involved in every aspect of the LSO’s work as well as championing the importance of music and music education.

At the announcement of his appointment, Simon Rattle said: “During my work with the LSO over the last years, I noticed that despite the Orchestra’s long and illustrious history, they almost never refer to it. Instead, refreshingly, they talk about the future, what can they make anew, what can they improve, how can they reach further into the community. In terms of musical excellence, it is clear that the sky’s the limit, but equally important, in terms of philosophy, they constantly strive to be a twenty-first century orchestra. We share a dream in which performing, teaching and learning are indivisible, with wider dissemination of our art at its centre. I cannot imagine a better or more inspiring way to spend my next years, and feel immensely fortunate to have the LSO as my musical family and co-conspirators.”

Simon Rattle outlined his vision for universal access to music, with children and young people at its heart.  He called for new standards in making world-class music available to all. He stated his aim that every musician should be engaged in composing, improvising, mentoring and performing; that the creation of new music will be central to the process, working with leading composers and teachers; and that his appointment will generate new partnerships between London and the whole country to confirm the UK as a world leader in the arts.

Simon Rattle is currently Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Berliner Philharmoniker, where he was appointed in 2002. His first appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra was in October 1977, at the age of 22. He conducted the LSO at the opening ceremony of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, memorably performing Chariots of Fire with Rowan Atkinson. Most recently, in January this year, he was acclaimed for his two concerts with the LSO of Schumann, Stravinsky, Webern, Berg and Ligeti at the Barbican Centre.

Lennox Mackenzie, Chairman of the LSO, said: “I am thrilled that Sir Simon Rattle has accepted our invitation to lead the Orchestra into the future. On behalf of our whole Orchestra, we welcome him as our Music Director at this hugely important moment in the LSO’s history. I would also like to offer the Orchestra’s sincere thanks to Valery Gergiev who has been the LSO’s Principal Conductor since 2007 and who steps down from his position at the end of this year.”

Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director of the LSO, said: “This is the realisation of a dream, to bring Simon Rattle back to his home country to lead the extraordinary musicians of the LSO. We look forward to a new chapter of ambitious music-making that reaches deep into the communities we serve and touches people’s lives with the power of music.”

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director of the Barbican Centre, said: “We are delighted to welcome Sir Simon Rattle to the LSO, our resident orchestra since the Centre opened. The presence of a world-class orchestra at the heart of this world-class arts centre, serving the widest range of audiences across London and beyond, has been an indispensable part of the Barbican’s success. We look forward to a period of thrilling development as Simon Rattle takes the LSO to ever greater heights of musical achievement and service to the community.”

Professor Barry Ife, Principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, said: “Sir Simon Rattle’s commitment to the next generation of musicians and to music education is world renowned. His appointment as Music Director of the LSO is an exciting opportunity, particularly for the students of the Guildhall School who regularly perform alongside the LSO’s musicians.”

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MATA Festival celebrates its seventeenth year, Monday, April 13 to Saturday, April 18, 2015, showcasing the wild variety of today’s compositional climate with a sweeping range of original compositions by thirty composers under the age of 40 from seventeen countries around the globe. Curated by the newly appointed Artistic Director, Du Yun, the 2015 Festival received international submissions from nearly a thousand composers—increasing by hundreds each year and confirming MATA’s booming status as the leading international festival for emerging composer talent. Among the Festival’s featured works are eleven American premieres and nine world premieres—three of which are Festival commissions—representing voices from Croatia to Iran, Bolivia to China. The 2015 Festival Commissionees are Ann Cleare (Ireland), Adam de la Cour (UK), and Wang Lu (China/US). MATA Festival 2015 boasts an unequaled lineup of performers, presenting Sweden’s aptly named Curious Chamber Players in the group’s U.S. debut visit, along with performances by Talea Ensemble, Momenta Quartet,Bearthoven, and a number of featured composer/performers.

“A bellwether of shifting tides” (Village Voice), the Festival’s non-dogmatic stylistic range is dizzying, this year offering a percussion sculpture, a punk-inspired scream-song, two works involving lamps and light bulbs, a pop-glitch piece based on Billy Joel’s “Honesty,” a sung resumé, a dancer connected to a pulley-driven prepared piano, recordings of Chinese women exercising in public, string quartets, electronics, video, and more. For the 2015 Festival, MATA also partners with Chashama to present a free site-specific sound art installation open daily to the public at Chashama 266, a storefront gallery in the bustling Fashion District. Festival offerings are previewed in an intimate opening night salon at Chelsea’s ultra-chic Paula Cooper Gallery with wine and music (Monday, 4/13); the “vibrant annual celebration of young composers” (The New York Times) continues over five nights at The Kitchen(Tuesday-Saturday, 4/14-18). Tickets are $20, $15 for students, available at www.thekitchen.org except for the opening night reception, $50 via www.matafestival.org. A full schedule of events appears below.

Composers who have been commissioned or presented by MATA early in their careers include Pulitzer-prize winner Jennifer Higdon, Derek Bermel, Annie Gosfield, Nico Muhly, Andrew Norman, David T. Little, and Alex Mincek. Over the years, the Festival has steadily expanded its international profile, highlighting fresh new voices and emerging trends on a global scale. Says Du Yun, “Not only are we tirelessly expanding our international profile, we are also surveying the scene at home. We are building a platform where the unthinkable is the status quo and the outcast is the norm.”

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A week from today, the American Modern Ensemble will bring a brand new program to SubCulture‘s stage. Entitled, “BLUE”, this upcoming performance celebrates the release of AME’s latest album, Powerhouse Pianists II, which features pianists Stephen Gosling and Blair MacMillan performing works for two pianos by leading living composers including John Adams and John Corigliano.

The program AME will perform at SubCulture will feature an array of the group’s talented players performing works by Margaret Brouwer, George Crumb, Robert Paterson, and Frederic Rzewski, among others. The evening’s music is arranged around the theme of “blue”, and spans from nautical evocations in Crumb’s Vox Balanae, Brouwer’s Lonely Lake, and Paterson’s Deep Blue Ocean, to stylistic suggestions of “blue” in Amanda Harberg‘s Tenement Rhapsody, Laura Kaminsky‘s Full Range of Blue, and the concert’s closing piece, Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues.

To put all the particulars as clearly as possible: the show starts at 8 PM on March 3 at SubCulture. Advance tickets are $20; day-of tickets are $30. More details and program information can be found at SubCulture’s website and the American Modern Ensemble’s website.

 

 

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sym5The Blue Whale in the Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles was the venue for a concert entitled “The Other Side of Valentines Day” by the group Synchromy – appropriately on Sunday, February 15, 2014. A nice crowd turned out to hear an evening of original new music performed by soprano Justine Aronson, Matt Barbier on trombone and pianist Richard Valitutto. In all, some ten pieces were heard, most of them by Los Angeles-based composers. The concert programs were handed out in envelopes in the manner of a Valentines card – a clever touch that added to the convivial ambiance.

First up was Song for Justine and Richard by Nick Norton, based on a lyric by Conor Oberst. This began with some quiet notes in the upper registers of the piano that evolved into some nice harmonies as piece progressed. After some moments Justine’s voice entered with a single quiet word: “Never.” Her smooth soprano, and also the very high notes in the piano accompaniment, had to compete against some kitchen noise that occasionally intruded on the quieter sections. But the sweet, introspective feel of this piece was effectively brought out by good ensemble and careful observance of dynamics by the performers.

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A silhouette of constrained motion, by Tina Tallon followed. This was a solo trombone piece including mutes and extended techniques played by Matt Barbier, who filled the room with all manner of squeaks, growls and guttural sounds. A wide variety of timbres and textures ensued, and as the piece continued one got the sense that a sort of feral language was unfolding, conveying a kind of elemental emotion. There was the sense of hindrance, impediment and perhaps slight vexation, but overall there was a more distinctly organic feel to this – an intriguing exercise in musical and non-verbal communication.

Falling, a work by Jason Barabba was next, based on a text by Annie Jankowski. This featured Justine Aronson’s voice whose range and power were more clearly evident. Richard Valitutto accompanied with a series of trills while long arcs of strong vocal passages soared overhead. The piano was more in an accompanying role, although the piece was punctuated with sharp notes and dramatic crashes that Richard does so well. At one point a sort of dance rhythm broke out and towards the end some recited text – “Grasping at hope that flies right by” – was very effective.

Parking in Cars by Dante de Silva followed and this was built around a mashed recording of a cautionary public service announcement from 1947 titled Are You Popular? Dante de Silva added a bouncy, 50’s sort of tune that incorporated its lyrics from the film: “Ginny thinks that she has the key to popularity – parking in cars with the boys at night.” This phrase was repeated, almost rap-like, while Matt Barbier played along, adding a jaunty bass line. The result produced a feeling that was part nostalgia and part amazement at a message so clearly out of date with 21st century deportment. But all this was more in fun than embarrassment and Parking in Cars proved to be a very enjoyable piece.

Next up was McCallum Songs by Nicholas Deyoe, written for piano and voice and based on a series of love poems written by Clint McCallum. The music consists of several shortish sections that opened with low piano chords and soft vocals, lending a somber tone to this. The text carries the story forward and was sung by Ms. Aronson with a quiet purity of tone. The feelings conveyed by these pieces are variously anxious, wistful, plaintive, frustrating, yearning, angry – all of the emotions that are part of the subject. Some of the text was narrated and this added to the sense of intimacy. Nicholas Deyoe has often exhibited a lively pyrotechnic flare in his compositions, but the McCallum Songs are elegantly infused with a soft, understated passion.

Unphotographable, by Scott Worthington followed and this combined electronic waveform tones with Matt Barbier’s muted trombone. This had a distinctly alien feel as the electronic waves began zero-beating and the trombone joined in, adding to the rhythms. It sounded, at times, like a sort of machine language was being spoken and the trombone playing was precise enough to blend in seamlessly. This piece occasioned an interesting reversal in the sense that the acoustic instrument was combined with the electronic waves as if it were another oscillator. Matt Barbier returned after the intermission for another solo work Mantram: Canto Anomimo by Giancinto Scelsi. This was a more conventional piece – no cold sine waves here. There was an exotic, Asian feel at times and this gave Matt Barbier a chance to stretch out using various slide effects and powerful playing that filled the room.

An arrangement of the Gershwin standard They’re Writing Songs of Love, But Not for Me, by Michael Finnissy was next, performed solo by Richard Valitutto on piano. This began with a tentative feel – as if the music was just below the surface, searching for itself. This had the effect of engaging the listener as the familiar melody slowly came into focus, artfully spanning the decades since the original was first heard. The playing by Valitutto had just the right touch of balance between old and new.

Walk of Shame, written by Richard Valitutto followed, performed by Matt Barbier on a muted bass trombone. A variety of interesting textures were produced with a sort of buzzing from the mute often riding on the pitch. The melody moved along quickly, with rapid passages, adding to a sense of  pace. The playing required consistently good technique and Matt Barbier delivered even as this was his final piece in a long concert.

The concert concluded with Simple Daylight , the noted song cycle by John Harbison, based on a text by Michael Fried. Originally commissioned by Lincoln Center Simple Daylight was first sung by Dawn Upshaw and begins with a sharp piano introduction that settles into a distinctly mysterious feel. The voice enters, building drama, even as the lyrics seem concerned with the ordinary. The music and the text work together effectively throughout, creating tension that results in a kind of indefinite, disconcerting awareness. Now a faster section that adds a further measure of anxiety, and the mood turns variously loud, dramatic, scary, and at times quiet and reflective. This is a complex piece, always something just beneath the surface, but the lyrics and the music always compliment each other perfectly . Harbison’s wide experience with choral church music is evident as he weaves a delicate thematic thread through each of the songs that comprise Simple Daylight. The playing in this performance – and especially the singing of Justine Aronson – never wavered under the many demands of this long work at the end of a full evening of concertizing.

Synchromy will appear at Boston Court in Pasadena July 17, 2015 in a program that will feature Brightwork and a variety of new music.

Photos by Tina Tallon

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