A NIGHT OF STIRRING PREMIERES
6 May 2003
The Boston Globe
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Dinosaur Annex runs a tight ship. For this concert - typically - the new-music group had eight instrumentalists (two winds, three strings, harp, piano, percussion) smartly arrayed in varying combinations for the Boston premieres of no fewer than six pieces, half of which had never been performed before by anybody, anywhere. And the composers themselves all seemed to have the knack of using limited means and a tight time frame to maximum artistic effect. Purposeful, pithy, cracklingly concise, and imaginative was so much the rule on Sunday at First and Second Church that whenever a longueur or cliche slouched unwelcomely into sight, it practically warranted a court martial.
In the "biggest" piece, Kurt Stallmann's "Metaphysical Miniatures" (2003), a quasi-orchestral-sounding sextet made a much more playful and poetic impression than its composer's rather fearsome analytic note suggested. Framing the middle movements - night music, then a jerky scherzo for dancing centipedes - were a smoothly eventful curtain-up and a percussion-haunted, misterioso finale.
"Slang" (1994), by Libby Larsen, was the one that dithered a bit, its wired, high-pressure cat-and-mouse instrumental games getting more and more frantic over time, as with children when bedtime is nearing.
Peter Homans's "Plie de Trois" (2000), as its title might imply, had a lithe, danceable feel to it, bringing a fine-tuned sense of phrasing and harmonic color to a setup of flute, harp, and viola that positively yearned to have subtle uses made of it - but without, please, sounding like Debussy (always a risk), which it didn't. This was heads-up composing.
The problem Stephen Hartke set himself in "Beyond Words" (2001), a threnody on the events of 9/11, was not to sound slavishly beholden to the 17th-century music by Thomas Tallis that inspired him, or to have the modern piano sound like a gross intruder into the sweetly mournful early-music sonorities his trio of stringed instruments conjured up. (More than once, your reviewer's response was, "Was that really the piano?")
Through much of Tom Flaherty's "Moments of Inertia" (2003), one felt a sort of love/hate relationship with the blandishments of minimalism. "With Quiet Turbulence," its first part, could have gone on for eons with its doo-dah oscillations but weaved a beautiful lyric line instead. The metrical shifts of "Uneasy Lullaby" would have kept any normal child up past midnight, but he wouldn't have been bored. "With Headlong Agitation," as it turned out, was an excellent title for the self-possessed, purposeful finale. As serious-minded divertimentos go (not a bursting genre), this was a winner, and satisfying to hear.
Laura Elise Schwendinger's "Magic Carpet Music," like the composer's other music we've heard, rejoices in edge and has a force that has its way even if the section titles promise something softly atmospheric - as here, with "Arabesque," `Air," and "Buenos Aires." Here is a composer who has distinct voice. It made for an enlivening, not soothing, end to a more than usually enlivening evening.
Richard Buell can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Music Review Dinosaur Annex Scott Wheeler, conductor At: First and Second Church, Boston, Sunday night
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