Engrossing piano/vocal program from Evolution Contemporary Music Series
I spent the afternoon as a guest in two classes taught by composer Johnathan Leshnoff at Towson University -- one on music since 1914, the other for composers. It was fun being around such cool, engaged students, hearing such lively discussions of new music and, in the second session, hearing the music that some of those students have been creating.
After such an afternoon, it was a smooth segue into the Evolution Contemporary Music Series concert at An die Musik that evening. The inventively organized program focused on four composers, each represented by songs and piano pieces.
The selections by George Crumb proved ...
These pieces, with texts by Robert Southey ("Night") and Sara Teasdale ("Let It Be Forgotten", "Wind Elegy"), are quite ravishing, suggesting a sound-world from decades earlier.
The vocal writing is unfussy, direct. The words are allowed to speak. The harmonic language is lushly romantic, the piano accompaniment colorful and telling.
Soprano Sara MacKimmie sang the songs beautifully, with richness and roundness of tone, considerable depth of phrasing. She enjoyed expert partnering from Kenneth Osowski.
The pianist's impressive skills also found a vivid outlet in selections from "Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik," Crumb's absorbing "ruminations" from 2002 on the Thelonious Monk classic "Round Midnight."
Crumb exploits the piano imaginatively, inside and out, while exploring the Monk song from every angle. The "Incantation" movement, with its evocations of tolling bells, is a particularly atmospheric example.
So is "Golliwog Revisited," a nod to "Golliwog's Cakewalk" by Debussy complete with wry references to "Tristan" (and a splash of "Till Eulenspiegel" for good measure).
Another highlight was the portion of the concert focusing on Arvo Part. "Fur Alina," a 1976 solo keyboard work of quiet, unhurried lyricism, was nicely played by Judah Adashi (founding director of the Evolution series).
The vocal music side of Part was represented by his sober setting from 2000 of the folk song "My Heart's in the Highlands," sung by mezzo Kristen Dubenion-Smith.
Some of Adashi's own music was also on the program, including a counterpart to Crumb's salute to Monk -- in his recent piano piece "Nina," Adashi honors another jazz great, Nina Simone. Some of the music struck me as forced, even gimmicky in places (the rhythmic tapping), but Osowski gave the material a persuasive performance.
Adashi's "Tres Canciones," sung by soprano Leah Inger Murphy with the composer at the piano, is a 2000 setting of Sandra Cisneros poems. The songs are not always subtle (in "Beatrice," a line about "odd geometry" and "lopsided symmetry" sparks a little too much note-splatter), but Adashi creates an effective level of emotional tension.
The program finished with works by Peter Lieberson, the fine composer who died well before his time earlier this year.
His Bagatelles for piano form 1985 pack in lots of color and spice within a short span. (I detected a reference to "Tristan" in the score, forming a neat balance with the Crumb work heard earlier.)
Lieberson's "Neruda Songs" from 2005 were written for his wife, soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who died the next year, much too young. "Amor mio" -- the poignant text opens with "My love, if I die and you don't/My love, if you die and I don't" -- provided a fitting close to an unusual and rewarding evening.
PHOTO OF JUDAH ADASHI BY JACQUELINE POLLAUF