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Review of Concert

altaVoz: Concierto VI

Saturday, June 4, 2005, 8:00 PM
Paine Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Beantown's newest consortium-style contemporary music group is also its most unusual. Founded in 2003, altaVoz consists of five Latin American-born tonemeisters , all of whom are present or former students in one of Boston 's graduate music programs. But like the collectives Common Sense and Minimum Security, altaVoz gives concerts in numerous cities and its members are scattered around the globe. If their presentation Saturday night seemed at times somewhat short of remarkable, it was a by-product of these young composers still groping out a personal voice.

Both Carta for solo cello by Mauricio Pauly and Exabruptos I for clarinet and percussion by Pedro Malpica show allegiance to avant-garde European styles. Spiky and spunky in sound and gesture, the latter demonstrates familiarity with both Stockhausen's later virtuosic clarinet pieces and Xenakis's thunderous percussion oeuvre. Despite a fondness for special effects, harmonics, unison oscillations, and the occasional microtone, Pauly's work seems less derivative, owing partially to its scale-based language. Neither possesses a clear formal outline, though both show a fetching economy of material and a well-sharpened ability to spin out ideas.

Judging from his flute/clarinet duo Un libre lado translucido , Jose Luis Hurtado has a penchant for Atlantic Coast approaches. There are plenty of busy textures, with the heaviest flurries serving as structural reference points within a modified narrative curve outline . Dissonant harmonies are handled well. Its similarity in aesthetic to guest composer Mario Davidovsky's Lost , an intimate setting of a Carl Sandburg poem for soprano and piano, was palpable.

For violin solo, Jorge Grossmann's La ricerca della spiritualita trascendente takes inspiration from older models such as the flashy unaccompanied fiddle items of Bach and Bartok . Its language is gritty but satisfying, and forms unfold cleanly. And the two movements heard, respectively delineating moods that are expressively languorous and perpetual motion speedy, speak with confidence. This was the evening's most satisfying listen.

In his program notes to Livro dos sonhos I , Felipe Lara makes no secret of the abrupt, non-linear nature of his duet for clarinet and piano. It says much for this scattered composition that it doesn't contain a single dull moment. There are violent contrasts aplenty, with enough showy writing to challenge the finest players. And extended techniques are nicely integrated into the clangorous fabric. It's surprisingly wonderful to hear.

One thing altaVoz definitely has going for it is an insistence on arresting performances. Clarinetist Michael Norsworthy and pianist John McDonald were utterly stunning in Lara's work, gleefully seizing its wild abandon and exuberantly tearing into its breathtaking difficulties. Sarah Beaty (clarinet) and Alex Lipowski (percussion) put forth a remarkably demonstrative and pleasing rendition of Exabruptos I , while Jin-Kyung Joen made luscious music of Grossmann's challenging opus. The Hurtado was nimbly traversed by flautist Orlando Cela and clarinetist Todd Brunel . Carta and Lost are more reserved, and their presentations suffered somewhat from Paine Hall's tendency to obscure subtle niceties, especially with windows open on a hot summer evening. Nevertheless, Shannon Salyards (soprano), Shizue Sano (piano), and Leo Eguchi (cello) did well enough under the circumstances.

There's much promise in this talented collective. No question, altaVoz is clearly a group to watch.

--David Cleary