By Dawoud Kringle
On Tuesday, May 21st, 2019, the New York Composers Circle presented “New Music for Ensembles and Electronics;” a concert of music by several of its members. The event was hosted by the National Opera Center.
The concert began with Jacob Elkin’s piece This is fine. This is a combination of bass clarinet and electronic sound collage that used voices from 30s & 40s radio broadcasts, and other noise intended to invoke “Paranoia and Dread.” Tony Park began on bass clarinet. Elkin started the electronic recording. Park played a very virtuosic part; wide intervallic leaps, irregular note groupings, electronic part became increasingly tense and disturbing. Park’s part answered this with an attempt to impose order on the electronic chaos. Eventually the electronic part became serene, and Park responded in kind.
Next was Scott Miller’s Assassination of Angels. It is a political protest piece, first inspired by the horrors of the Reagan administration. It is an entirely electronic sound collage recording with no live instruments. The piece was an incongruous mix of opera, jazz drums, electronic noise, and ambient sound that accomplished its intended artistic objective in a very visceral manner.
Esther Noh on violin and Geoffry Burelson on piano performed Peri Mauer’s piece A Violin and a Piano. The violin began on a melody that was mournful, playful, and unpredictable at the same time. The piano came in with somber chords, which the violin responded to with upper harmonics. The two instruments exchanged melodies and began playfully chasing each other. This turned into a strange dance that ended on an abrupt note.
Next was Dary John Mizelle’s Newtrio. This is a piece in three movements performed by Linda DiMartino on flute, Tony Park on clarinet, and Geoffry Burelson on piano. Each of he three movements have “cells.” The first movement, titled Colored Silences, lento / largo, started with the clarinet and flute played unusually low notes, with piano responding with chords. There was much space in the music. The dynamics increased, and hints of a rhythmic pulse would emerge and disappear into hiding. Sometimes a startling note would emerge from the silence in contrast to the space. The second movement, Dance, began as less abstract, with a waltzing pattern, which would disassemble and reassemble itself. The final movement , Polyphony, explored the variety of emotions categorized in the Rasa system of Indian raga; however, there was nothing here that could be remotely described as a raga.
After an intermission composer, guitarist, and MFM member Roger Blanc introduced his piece; Duopoly, performed by Ayako Shima on clarinet, and Vasko Dukovski on bass clarinet. It began with a perfectly harmonized melody emerging that evoked a blend of emotional dimensions. Each movement evoked the emotional quality of its title: Solemn, Deliberate, “Playful, Tranquil, and Urgent. Once could hear elements of Brahms, Haydn, and Beethoven. Yet the piece was in no way derivative; it assimilated the classic traditions of harmony and counterpoint, and emerged as something new. It was a highlight of the entire concert.
Max Giteck Duykers’ Ocean Filigree followed. This featured Ether Noh on violin, and Geoffry Burelson on piano, with both musicians using samples and loops of their own performance that were manipulated in real time by the musicians during the piece (I never found out if the use of electronics was indicated in the score, or if the performers were at liberty to improvise). The piano began with rumbling low notes that increased in volume. The violin danced over this with fast, weird harmonics. The piano responded with high notes. This changed into a lively tonal rhythm with dramatic counterpoints dancing around each other. The electronics blended beautifully with the acoustic instruments; they contrasted without damaging the unity.
Inspired by a coral reef region in Mexico, Craig Slon’s Trip for Two Clarinets and Piano was next. The clarinets began with playful patterns over which the piano played chromatic counterparts. This morphed in and out of itself, and transformed into ever changing variations. It was as if the instruments were sharing an inside joke with each other, and were dying to let the audience in on it, but the joke had to play out, otherwise it would be meaningless. The joke, eventually evolved into a beautiful and poetic dialogue.
The final piece of the evening was Worship by Frederick Boyle. Boyle used his experience as a Methodist Minister, and years as a jazz musician, as inspiration for this work. The first movement, Invitation, used a walking jazz bass line performed by Anthony F. Morris and jazz piano by Geoffry Burleson opened the way for vocalist Angel Desai to sing the text of this religiously inspired piece. The next section began with long arco tones on the bass, sparse chords on piano, and a contemplative vocal. This ended on a hopeful major chord. The third movement brought out a vintage pop song / gospel structure.
With the exception of the pieces by Mizelle, Blanc, and Duykers, each piece was a world premier.
Overall, the New York Composers Circle displayed an interesting variety of approaches to music composition. In the realm of New Music, we are in a period where composers are no longer concerned with what can be done; we already know what is possible. We are exploring what is meaningful within those possibilities, and using this to give voice to unspoken sublimities and truths.
To quote Frank Zappa: “The modern day composer refuses to die!”