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October 31, 2011

Guest blogger: Logan K. Young reviews UMBC's Livewire fest

As you know, I just can't be everywhere. I was particularly sorry to miss the hefty, heady assortment of contemporary music at UMBC last week. But, thanks to a guest blogger, I can provide this great report on one of the programs:


According to Dr. Linda Dusman, Concert Committee Chair at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, LIVEWIRE is “UMBC’s celebration of the extraordinary musical creativity that characterizes the first decade of the 21st century.”

Having wrapped up its sophomore year on Saturday night with an exquisite concert by the VERGE Ensemble, LIVEWIRE 2: ON FIRE certainly lived up to its ecumenical, all-CAPS mission.

The programming -- eight shorter-duration works all written between 1999-2011 -- was fresh and adventurous, the execution precise and assured.

From Tom DeLio’s sparse, academic pointillism to the neo-classical tunes and jaunty rhythms of Alexandra Gardner, no other new music ensemble on the Beltway has as broad a repertoire as VERGE.

Speaking of DeLio and Gardner, both composers were ....

on hand for a lively pre-concert discussion. While they both lamented the ritual of speaking before (instead of after) their music has been heard, the two differed somewhat on what they hoped their audience would hear.

DeLio, a tenured professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, spoke of his fascination with pure sound, no doubt gleaned from his work with electronic music. Gardner, a Peabody alum and Associate Editor of NewMusicBox, talked more of extra-musical inspirations such as books and photography.

Honestly, you could hear this difference of opinion in their music. DeLio’s "transients/resonances" (2006) for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, cello and percussion was a methodical étude on what happens when a sound is over. Does the music stop right there? Or does it linger on? There’s a lot of silence through-composed into DeLio’s music, and kudos to VERGE for remaining absolutely still during his negative space so we could come to our own conclusion.

Gardner’s "The Way of Ideas" (2007) for flute, clarinet, violin and piano proved much more straightforward. Taken from a line in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass about how thoughts become reality, VERGE’s balanced reading let us hear how the flute’s motif would soon become the clarinet’s. The interplay between flautist David Whiteside and clarinetist Rob Patterson was so jovial and so transparent, following Gardner’s hocketting logic was a delight indeed.

It’s always a pleasure, too, to hear any late-era Elliott Carter, and pianist Audrey Andrist deserves a special citation for her concentrated rendering of "Caténaires" (2006). A true elder statesman of American arts and letters, Carter will turn 103 next month; including him on a program dedicated to 21st century music is a particularly apt call.

Perhaps the most forward-looking piece on the program, though, was Ben Broening’s brand new work for solo violin and computer, "gathering light" (2011). From the piezo harmonics to the low-end rumblings, Lina Bahn’s otherwise classical instrument was made to sound something fierce, almost feral by comparison. Broening describes the piece as a musing on the liminal light of the Estonian forest, but a better description might be what goes bump in the night.

If last year’s festival was a call to action, this year’s LIVEWIRE: ON FIRE was a call to arms. There’s a stockpile of talent at UMBC, for sure. And with local ensembles like VERGE and composers such as Tom DeLio and Alex Gardner for hire, the next iteration will most certainly not be a shot in the dark. To the fore, Baltimore -- there’s a new new music series in town.

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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