Monday, May 7, 2012

Concert Review: Seattle Composers' Salon – Chapel Performance Space at Good Shepherd Center, Seattle, 5/4/2012

From the Composers' Salon website: “The Seattle Composers’ Salon fosters the development, performance and appreciation of new music by regional composers and performers.

First up: Five one-minute pieces by Emily Doolittle, played by Keith Eisenbrey. These were little character pieces with a wide variety, including a Debussyesque haze of open fifths, a humorous start-and-stop cluster of “wrong notes”, and a birdchirpy dance in irregular meters. A fun opener.

Next, the Rubaiyat of Greek poet Stavros Melissinos as set to music by Yvonne Hoar. For baritone soloist and piano, this was difficult music that stretched monody into borderline atonality. A rubaiyat is a Persian poem where the poet discusses (at considerable length) his/her views of life, love, and philosophy. This particular setting was not particularly long (it was the shortest piece on the program) because Ms. Hoar had only set a couple of verses; I personally was just starting to like piece when it ended, and I’m waiting for another couple of verses.

The third piece was the last work with piano: a set of three pieces by Anne Cummings. Ann is a familiar performer at the Composers’ Salons; here she made her Salon debut as a composer (but still a performer; the piece was more performance art than piano solo). She announced beforehand that the piece was based on a deeply abstract concept, but she wouldn’t reveal what that concept was until after the performance so she could judge the audience’s reaction. “Broken and Not Broken” began with a sparkling minimalist figure, then its inversion, then the two of them in harmony – and was abruptly cut off as Ms. Cummings removed her hands from the keyboard and clapped a rhythm. Keyboard and clapping alternated until both were cut off by a third sound – dull thudding (with echoes) from the inside of the piano, bass strings (same rhythm). “Sound Reveals My Existence” began with a series of overtones, then presented (vocally) the philosophical conundrum that “I have already not existed before”, i.e., before one’s birth. What was my experience then? Shouting into the piano strings (for sympathetic vibrations) failed to answer the existential question, so the final piece (“Present Absent Time”) was entirely instrumental. A dissonant chord alternated with quick, running, pianistic figures in 7/8 time and then suddenly resolved into an unrelated key. The piece did not come to an end; an end came to it. It seems that we are left with the question and even the possibility that we can’t even really ask the question.

Last up: my own work-in-progress “SoundScrolls VII”; one of my few pieces that use no piano. Having not practiced it beforehand, Bruce Greeley (bass clarinet), Mike Sentkewitz (string bass), and Natalie Mai Hall (‘cello) showed up about an hour early and we went over it before the show. I made a couple of adjustments to the concept of the piece (my score said to repeat the melodic fragments up to three times, but this was far too long so I ditched the repeats) and then we gave it a shot. The Salons welcome “works in progress” (I’ve heard some unrehearsed pieces before) so it wasn’t really a problem, though I did announce beforehand that we’d only played through it once…

We did the first and third movements; both are graphic scores (the first looks like a landscape on “music paper” that only has four lines per staff – one for each string of a stringed instrument; the second is a set of melodic fragments to be played in order at one’s own pace). The first came off quite well as free jazz with a lot of spaces for silence and contemplation. I thought the third needed more work (Bruce, who played the bass clarinet, was with me on this); a lugubrious tonal mud – but audience members found it otherwise (such adjectives as “lovely” and “sensual” were tossed around). At any rate, I’m going to slightly revise it and it’ll be ready for the concert on the 24th.

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