Thursday night’s New Music New Haven Concert, featuring faculty composers Ezra Laderman and Roberto Sierra, provided a varied program of new works with a wide range of aesthetic outlooks.
Laderman, professor of composition and former dean of the School of Music, is one of the greatest living figures of what one might call mainstream American modernism. His “Fantasy” for solo cello is a breathlessly exuberant, far-ranging, brilliant piece.
Ascending and descending lines are either aggressively counterpoised or left to float gently, while ghosts of tonal progressions occasionally surface. The 15-minute work emerges as a tantalizingly fragmented discourse with clear thematic markers leading the way.
Laderman employs a wide range of technical resources, all of which were brought off flawlessly in an astonishing performance by cellist Patrick Jee.
Jee, performing the large-scale work from memory, was always in control of a barrage of wide-ranging challenges to his virtuosity. Together, Laderman and Jee provided a very difficult act to match.
That job was left to Sierra, a visiting composition professor from Cornell University. His Primera and Tercera Cronica del Descubrimiento, for guitar and flute, strive to depict the confrontation between Spanish conquistadors and native Puerto Ricans. The musical result, in the case of the first “Cronica,” is a bland sort of exoticism, with a spiraling flute line above a guitar part that provides mildly jaunty rhythms.
The “Tercera Cronica” is more interesting in terms of harmony, rhythm, gesture and texture. The guitar part provides more musical substance and the range of musical argument is wider.
Sierra’s “Triptico” for guitar and string quartet showcases the composer’s textural sensitivity. All three sections share textural material, and the interaction between plucked and sustained sounds holds the listener’s interest.
The first half of the long program was rounded out by Spencer Lambright’s MUS ’01 “Matzerath Scenes.” The title refers to Oscar Matzerath, the central character of Gunter Grass’s novel “The Tin Drum,” which the work seeks to illustrate. A brilliantly striking opening gives way to a colorful and evocative landscape of strident twitterings, block chords and skidding runs.
Experiencing a new work by Gerardo Perez Giusti is always an adventure. The meaning of the title of his “Day That Lasted 36 Nights,” for trumpet and electronics, became apparent when voices emerged from the speakers discussing the intricacies of absentee ballot counting in Florida. Later in the piece, Al Gore reluctantly concedes the election to George W. Bush.
To illustrate this turn of events, Giusti adds a synthesized glob of sound, to which the trumpet contributes nothing in particular with the help of piano strings and bowed cymbals. As with most of Giusti’s other works, the effect is that of fairly hackneyed film music without a film.
In an unusual turn for New Music New Haven, the next work was by a composer not affiliated with Yale. Nigel Westlake’s Piano Sonata is an impressive and engrossing work. Liam Viney MUS ’01 attacked the piano with a ferocity which let up only for a central episode of charming post-Romantic lyricism. The outer portions of the work, by contrast, created frenetic, jazzy, exuberant textures with an unmistakable air of good spirits.
The music of Sebastian Zubieta MUS ’01 is often monolithic and forbidding. “Pau Que Nasce Torto,” for winds, piano, and percussion, was a fine example of his granite-hewn aesthetic. Dissonant wind lines progress steadily, augmented by the occasional flourish. The work grows slowly and imperturbably to a bass drum cadenza against a background of held wind notes, after which the winds resumed their slow march to the end of the piece. “Pau Que Nasce Torto” emerged as a stubborn yet beguiling work, frustrating but also entrancing.
The concert’s final work was Daniel Kellogg’s MUS ’01 “Canvases” for wind ensemble with percussion, written for Kellogg’s position as composer-in-residence for the University of Connecticut at Storrs. The four short movements are linked to four paintings, by Munch, Van Gogh, Dali and Mondrian.
Kellogg uses the extremely wide timbral palette of his ensemble with entrancing results. Dark and light colors are juxtaposed and intermingled, interrupted by frequent percussion outbursts. The second movement builds to a climax of almost orchestral breadth, while the third uses masses of unsynchronized lines (cued independently by conductor Shizuo Kuwahara MUS ’01) to build a broad climax with bass drum and chimes.
While any attempt to represent visual art with music is bound to fail on some level, Kellogg’s musical imagination yielded an entertaining and convincing set of character pieces.