Saturday, December 7, 2013
By CHRISTOPHER HYDE
The Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music -- held Thursday, Saturday and today at Bowdoin College's Studzinski Hall -- is always interesting, but Saturday night's program was marked by some extraordinary performances as well.
Maine composer Elliot Schwartz’s “For Louise and Aaron” concluded Saturday’s Gamper Festival program
WHAT: Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music
WHERE: Studzinski Hall, Bowdoin College, Brunswick
DATE REVIEWED: Saturday
Tenor Mark Bleeke's interpretation of "Martial Law Carol" by Robert Beaser, with the composer at the piano, built from an ordinary holiday song to an almost unbearable intensity.
Violist Katherine Hagen made Molly Joyce's prize-winning "Dear Elizabeth Hayes," for solo viola, sound like Bach on a good day, or maybe the young composer (age 19) is a genius. Time will tell, but Joyce is certainly able to reveal all of the best qualities of the instrument.
David T. Little's "Speak Softly," a percussion quartet for little stick, average stick, big stick and immense stick, was a virtuoso tour de force in complex polyrhythms, played with drumsticks on branches cut near the college.
The musical quality of the selections was also unusually high, beginning with Noah Gideon Meites' "Bioskop," for clarinet, violin, cello, percussion and piano.
"Bioskop" was inspired by very early moving pictures of the same name. In one short segment can be heard the wheezing and grinding of a 19th-century projector. In another, there is a fascinating use of overtones that makes cello, violin and glockenspiel sounds almost converge.
Richard Francis' Violin Sonata explores similar tonalities between piano notes and pizzicati on the violin during what he called a "naughty" scherzo. That fast movement came quickly to mind after the composition of the slow second movement, he said. The first has yet to be written.
The andante itself might well have generated the scherzo as a reaction. Beginning with a melancholy theme, it builds through increasing anguish to a passionate despair similar to that of "Martial Law Carol."
The program concluded with the String Quartet No. 2, "For Louise and Aaron," of Elliot Schwartz, inspired by the work of contemporaries Aaron Copland and Louise Nevelson. The result, like one of Nevelson's sculptures, is a monumental edifice built of (musical) fragments assembled into blocks of sound.
It seems incredible, but at his death Copland was writing a serial (12-tone) composition. His tone row, shown to Schwartz at the Library of Congress, was the genesis of the quartet, which received a new impetus and direction from a visit to an exhibition of Nevelson's sculpture. The Copland tone-row appears throughout the work and supports an effective use of the spoken word, with quotations from both artists, near its conclusion.
The quartet was recently given an exemplary reading on Albany Records by the Borromeo String Quartet. It was even better, however, to hear it played live -- by Muneko Otani, violin, Shuan Ho, violin, Sarasa Otake, viola, and Antoni Josef Inacay, cello.
Christopher Hyde's Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: