Review of concert
New and Newer Works: Music of Hayg Boyadjian
Thursday, April 6, 2006, 8:00 PM
It has been two years since the Just in Time Composers and Performers group gave a concert. With former members John Sarkissian and Jorge Grossman having left for Berlin and Las Vegas respectively and the rest relying on other outlets for presentation, it seems safe to say this long-standing collective no longer has active status. But as yesterday's evening of music by Hayg Boyadjian would suggest, life goes on fruitfully even after such groups disappear.
Cassiopeia (2002) for clarinet, cello, and piano was one of the best pieces encountered. Its ternary format is lucid without seeming obvious; busy yet genial outer sections stand in clear contrast to a more laid-back center. And its material is tight, mainly drawn from a five note cell tracing the letter "W" on the staff in emulation of the title constellation. Like much else found on this program, its harmonic language is scalar though not normally triadic, with a moderate clangor quotient. Fine listening. Eclipse (2001) had appeared previously on a Just in Time concert. It holds up well under a second hearing, too, though its depiction of two bodies approaching, crossing over, and going their separate ways proves hard to perceive. Nevertheless, this evocatively lugubrious entry makes its cello and contrabass duo sound noble and meaningful, never tubby or turgid.
Boyadjian's Sonata No. 3 for Piano (2005) is an example of the single movement approach to this genre, a direct descendent from Franz Liszt's ground-breaking opus. Both exposition and recapitulation are brash, angry, and drivingly energetic, perfectly suggesting its composer's anti-war outrage. Highly contrapuntal yet never studied sounding, it's both motivically taut and hugely engrossing. Instead of a development section, however, we encounter a slow, desolate, and static passage over which a despairing poem (written by Boyadjian ) is read by the pianist. It's jarring in the extreme, but as these things go proved surprisingly effective. A worthy and unusual listen. Boyadjian celebrates the birthdays of his two grandchildren in part by composing a character piece for piano in their honor. The result is an ongoing catalog of miniatures, one called Odessas and the other Nicks . The latest of each appeared here. Nicks No. 10 (2005) neatly oscillates between aggressive and impish material with a strong obsessive streak pervading it all. Subtitled "My Birdie," Odessa No. 11 (2005) would seemingly depict a mighty large and pugnacious feathered friend judging from its punchy, active, and intense textures built from trills and like gestures. But both items project loads of personality and cleverness.
Scored for trombone and piano pairing but also existing in formats for orchestra and for two oboes with piano, the Armenian Suite (2005) is clearly meant as a practical work for use. Here, the trombone line consists of indigenous folk melodies following one upon the other, surrounded by keyboard backing mostly pandiatonic and occasionally polytonal in nature. Mildly redolent of Bartok and Copland, it comes across as scattered because of its wide-ranging melodic material.
Performances varied, but the best were excellent; Boyadjian made scores available for perusal and your reviewer thus got to look on with music in hand. The best efforts came from the group Cello e Basso (originally the Axiom Duo but recently renamed) and the triumvirate of players in Cassiopeia . Emmanuel Feldman (cello) and Pascale Delache -Feldman (contrabass) were marvelously musical and perceptive, putting forth a solid sound that never became cloudy -- no mean feat for such a pairing. Clarinetist Jonathan Cohler , cellist Jing Li, and pianist Karen Sauer featured playing that was both individually polished and collectively sensitive, projecting textures of all sorts with clarity and vigor. Sauer and trombonist Roger Hecht performed the Armenian Suite accurately but with minimal fire and less attention to ensemble balance than would have been nice. Pianists Max Lifchitz ( Sonata ) and Karine Bagdasarian ( Odessa and Nicks ) offered presentations that had significant personality and appeal as well as impressive technical facility but gave short shrift to certain important score parameters -- tempo fluctuations in the case of the former, pedaling and note durations in the latter.