TO . . ., 3
Veddy British Music
(Kraft) <> Going Into 'Understated Drive' (Kroll), 6
DOTTED NOTES from … Kraft, Kroll, Greenfest, Hickey, BLC, 16
SPEAKING OUT! Thoughts on the Pulitzer Prize, 17
THE PRINTED WORD Berger's Reflections (Kraft), 20
THE SCOREBOARD Sperry's Encores (Drogin), 21
Mini but Not Mousy
(Cleary) <> Bell's Echoes of Bela (Cleary) <> Just a Few Will Do (Cleary),
RECENT RELEASES, 24
THE PUZZLE CORNER, 25
COMPOSER INDEX, 27
BULLETIN BOARD, 27
Modern Orchestra Project
Shadows: Laurel Ann Maurer
A Bond Between Composer and Performer
'Cutting Edge Concert.' Margaret Brouwer: Demeter Prelude ~~ Melinda Wagner: Elegy ~~ Lisa DeSpain: Rise and Fall ~~ Jay Reise: Memory Refrains. Performed by Cassatt String Quartet. Presented by Greenwich House Arts, Renee Weiler Recital Hall, Greenwich House Music School, April 10th.
This fine concert, with its display of compositional excellence by women composers, had to serve Cutting Edge's raison d'etre well. It is one good reason for composer-conductor Victoria Bond's developing this series in the first place. Add to that the solid playing of the all-woman Cassatt Quartet, and the evening was a bona fide tribute to women everywhere who have made the exis-tence of quality music their life work.
The program featured a short but intensely moving piece by Pulitzer Prize winner Melinda Wagner, one of but two women to be so honored. We heard her 12-minute Elegy, which can be as-sessed as powerful and heartfelt, a composition which, like life itself, goes through a slowly evolving cycle, reaching a pinnacle of strength and vitality at midpoint, then reverses itself and fades away into peaceful resignation. There is something of the late Beethoven in the opening and closing with its strong suggestions of sobbing but without the slightest maudlin tinge; it is quite genuine. To paraphrase Mark Grant, recently writing about an-other contemporary chamber work, may we use the term "minor masterpiece?"
Quite unlike the Wagner, Lisa De Spain's orientation in her piece is sociological. In her remarks from the stage, she spoke about the use of jazz improv and other elements which are not exclusively those of jazz. It's a topical subject, and it demonstrates that a genre is felt in the sum of its parts, whether those parts entail syncopation, rubato, etc., all musical elements used by Bach, Mozart and thousands of "pre-jazz" figures, as well as by Ray Charles and Charlie Parker. Her piece, in four movements, entitled "Birth - Street - Song - Toil and Dream," does indeed use jazzy rhythms (e.g., the shuffle), blues elements, and a vocalise (sung by violinist Leshnower), but in its allusions to the Negro spiritual in the final and last movements, can also be seen as a tribute to the music of African Americans, despite the use of occasional classical modes than didn't always fit in.
Earlier we heard perhaps the most upbeat selection, Ms. Brouwer's refreshingly tonal prelude, which was rapidly paced and might have been easily termed allegro assai. It certainly projected the energy of Demeter, as the composer remarked to Ms. Bond in her brief interview, and it made for a fine opener.
The one male composer heard, Jay Reise, was also the one composer whose music reflected at least some of the academic tenor of the past decades. Largely atonal, but nonetheless quite expressive, Memory Refrains is cast in three continuous sections and runs over 27 minutes. It is surely substantial in its working out of structure, with long cadences linking the sections, so that these links are all but movements in themselves. Interestingly, as the composer pointed out, it ends with an elegy very much like Wagner's but only after a welcome capriccio and an overly passionate barcarolle have come to a cadence that the listener might think is the preparation for the coda, which then proves to be long to come. Perhaps, this is why we feel the work is overlong, not that it lacks a powerful persona, but that, like too much contemporary music, begins on a high plane of emotion and finds itself with nowhere to go. Maybe Yogi Berra had it right when he said "when you come to a fork in the road, take it." Composers need to avoid arbitrary decisions and get on with it, using their best instincts.
Nonethless, another listening of this multi-faceted work might change that opinion. <>