The whole concert was a delight to hear
By Peter Jacobi
In a conversation prior to Thursday evening’s New Music Ensemble concert, guest composer Libby Larsen waxed enthusiastically about the ensemble and its director, David Dzubay. We did not meet again after the program, but I would guess that she was waxing again because the ensemble, Dzubay, guest bassoonist William Ludwig, and guest soprano Tabitha Burchett honored two of her compositions with outstanding performances.
Along the way, another composer, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music doctoral candidate Timothy Miller, should have done his own waxing for what Dzubay and company accomplished in a premiere reading of his contribution to the program in Auer Hall, an intriguing work intriguingly called “Organism.”
Larsen was on campus for a two-day residency that included, along with the concert, a lecture, master class and time spent giving lessons to composition students in the Jacobs School. She and director/conductor Dzubay had settled on two Larsen pieces: the recently written “Full Moon in the City” for bassoon and string quintet and the 1989 song cycle, “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” based on poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
“Full Moon” is a charmer. Larsen describes it as “a stroll for bassoon and strings” that “imagines a bassoon, after hours, out on a walk in the club district of an unnamed city.” Ludwig’s bassoon did a lot of walking, serenading as it did so and listening to the five string instruments play bits of melodies from nine songs about the moon, including “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” the Police’s “Walking on the Moon,” the Ramones’ “Howling at the Moon,” and more. The Larsen score holds gobs of atmosphere, a slow romp through that “unnamed city” for bassoonist Ludwig, and three movements of enticing chamber music for the string quintet, chosen from the ranks of the New Music Ensemble: Lydia Umlauf and Augusta McKay Lodge, violins; Sekyeong Cheon, viola; Maxwell Frank, cello, and Peter Ferretti, double bass. For this listener, the whole was a delight to hear.
The six “Sonnets from the Portuguese” were written in collaboration with the much admired Arleen Auger, for whom they were composed. They’re scored for soprano and a 15-instrument ensemble, and, to Larsen’s credit, the music oozes the feelings of love the frail poet had for Robert and the doubts she harbored about what would turn out to be their happy union. The orchestral portion of the score is at all times expressive of Browning’s passionate passages and features illuminating instrumental touches that musically embody the poet’s thought or jog of memory or burst of emotion. Dzubay and the players got fully into the spirit of the work, as did soprano Burchett who, vocally, nobly mastered the Elizabeth Barrett Browning role. Would that the music’s high tessitura had not limited her ability to make all the words clear and distinct.
Thursday’s program began with Timothy Miller’s “Organism,” for which Dzubay and 17 musicians needed all their rhythmic and measure counting skills. The work, according to the composer, was designed to symbolize “the development of an organism — spores, tissues, organs and the organism itself.” What one heard were fragments of lines that, over the span of the music, moved from the fractured to an ultimate, seemingly unified tonal cluster representing the completed organism. The listening was not easy, but one should certainly praise Miller’s use of imagination and command of what, much of the time, amounted to 17 musicians playing individual and disparate material. Somehow, he and they magically made it all come together.
© Herald Times 2013