Review: IU musicians impressive at Latin American event

IU musicians impressive at Latin American event

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com
October 22, 2011

http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/stories/2011/10/22/scene.qp-4359091.sto

Thursday evening’s concert by the New Music Ensemble was designed as complement to “Cultural Counterpoints,” an international conference being held here to examine musical interactions between the United States and Latin America. The conference, in turn, was planned as a featured event helping to mark the 50th anniversary of Indiana University’s Latin American Music Center.

It’s up to the musicologists and composers who’ve been attending the lectures and panel discussions to determine just how the repertoire chosen for the concert fits into the conference theme. But for this reviewer, who has not partaken of those sessions, what was heard proved two vivid points: (1) Contemporary music from the Americas is wide-ranging, often striking, and most worthy of recognition and display, and (2) The New Music Ensemble made itself, the Jacobs School, and IU proud with the extraordinary quality of its playing, this before an audience containing visitors who might not previously have been aware of what goes on here.

The ensemble’s director, David Dzubay, led five works with distinction and, one would expect, to the satisfaction of four composers who were present for the concert in Auer Hall. The fifth, Silvestre Revueltas, died 71 years ago, but had he been here, he should have been highly pleased with how, so uninhibitedly and exhilaratingly, Dzubay and 15 instrumentalists treated the brief and dynamically brilliant “Sensemaya, Canto para matar a una culebra,” a compressed tone poem written in 1937 and laden with percussive beats and zesty fare for violins, woodwinds and brassy brasses.

The highly respected Juan Orrego-Salas was present, he the founder of the Latin American Music Center and represented by “Presencias,” a series of seven fragile and evocative mood pieces for harpsichord, three woodwinds and three strings, modern but tied to styles past, including the Baroque and Impressionism.

Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, a much-performed composer of Mexican origin, heard the New Music Ensemble, soprano Audrey Escots, and a speaker, Juan Carlos Zumudio, take on the “Comala Suite,” written in 2004 and based on a novel by Pedro Paramo that, in story, intersects the living and the dead. The curiously compelling score commands the living (enacted by Zumudio) to speak and the dead (Escots) to sing. The piece had an aural impact that would have been strengthened by amplifying Zumudio.

Auer Hall, wonderful for music, is not nearly so wonderful for the spoken word. It’s not a parlor or small classroom. It’s a spacious concert venue, and it remains a puzzle why, time after time, performers continue to take to the stage, emote without sufficient amplification or at least without enhanced lung power, and end up mumbling.

Mumbling was not an issue in Eugene O’Brien’s “In the Country of Last Things,” this IU composer’s setting of two Pablo Neruda poems about birth and death. Performed just a few weeks ago on another New Music Ensemble program, this substantial and imaginatively orchestrated work also features a soprano soloist (the terrific Sharon Harms) who must produce gobs of decibels (which the terrific Harms did). Those gobs of decibels, a majority of them at the high end of the soprano range and often also in fluttering state, meet up with 16 instrumentalists doing their own heavy duty. Consequently, what one heard in musical form was the passion of Neruda’s message. What one probably could not hear, or understand, were Neruda’s words, which seemed, as before, unfortunate, even though the balance this time seemed somewhat improved.

Thursday’s program ended with “Guell Concert,” a set of variations on a cantiga by a 13th century Castillian king, written in 2006 by the Puerto Rican Roberto Serra. The music is percussive, raucous, capricious in the way the composer experiments with sounds. One kept on listening for the next aural surprise; they kept coming thanks to Dzubay and band, all of them meticulously attentive to details.

 

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2011

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