21ST CENTURY MUSIC
“New Gallery Concert”
by David Cleary
New Gallery, October 25, Community Music Center, Boston, MA.
It can be great fun to critique the younger, lesser known performers and series that present new music. The New Gallery Concert Series is one such venture, and their most recent event contained much worth hearing.
Avoidance Tactics #1 (2001) by Curtis K. Hughes had been encountered in its piano/percussion duo version a few months prior. Hearing it again, this time in a more practical piano-and-tape incarnation, confirmed earlier impressions of it being a first-rate selection. The piece’s excellent ear for form (an imaginative take on the idea of small rondo) and risky yet successful notion of sectional balance have been noted previously, but an audible kinship between materials employed within the two primary contrasting ideas imparted a second level of listening pleasure. And no one can miss the exhilarating intensity of gesture or gripping spikiness of harmony displayed. While preferring the live interaction inherent in the all-acoustic scoring, this listener has no quibbles with the variant presented this evening. Pianist (cand concert series director) Sarah Bob’s top-flight performance was an ideal combination of all-stops-out abandon and sure-footed technical control, though the playback assistant had the tape cranked up awfully loud, at times to the point of distortion. Violinist Biliana Voutchokova joined Bob in giving an able rendition of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres (1980) that contained surprisingly little of the reserve one often associates with this composer–and resultantly made one hear this piece with fresh ears. Part’s classically unadorned use of variation procedure demands music that is both spotless and evocative, and it’s a pleasure to report that he stuffs this structure with perfectly turned sonic jewels. Like all this composer’s best output, it’s wonderful to experience.
The splendid duo Odd Appetite (Ha-Yang Kim, cello and Nathan Davis, percussion) illustartes the axiom “good things are worth waiting for.” And good they were, displaying careful chamber music interaction, a well-tuned ear for ensemble balance, and technical dexterity to burn. The more successful of the two works they gave was Ken Ueno’s Contemplation on Little Big Muff (2000), a gritty yet stylish essay obsessed with a frozen mid-range cello pitch and embellishments thereof. It manages to offset its slightly loose overall architectural sensibility with an appealingly dogged sense of determination and laser-beam vehemence of gesture that ultimately wins the day. Fodder (2001) by Dennis DeSantis nicely cobbles together a clutch of itchy pop-like fragments in a repetitive if not exactly process-like fashion, judiciously introducing these snippets and then incorporationg them into older material. Unfortunately, the piece simply stops rather than reaching a convincing conclusion.
What all the above had in comon with Todd Almond’s five vocal-piano selections, unabashed pop songs in a style that for the most part cobines elements of Tin Pan Alley and folksy singer-songwriter, was anyone’s guess. While their melodic material proves serviceable enough, it’s the lyrics that supply the lion’s share of the interest, often containing clever riffs and twists on expected prosody and a Christine Lavin like sauciness. The best was Why Don’t You Come Over (2001), a clever musical-in-miniature with patter-song vocal delivery and boogie-based keyboard figures that presents an insecure woman’s attempt to coax her object of desire over for a holiday tryst. Singer Pamela Bob came forth with a pleasant medium weight pop voice and effective stage presence. Almond’s piano backing was capable and his light pop tenor vocals were okay. The audience devoured it all like hungry kittens at a bowl of cream.