Friday, June 25, 2010

Maurice Wright's Movement in Time

One of the reasons I want the Philadelphia Orchestra to go on living is that it keeps about a hundred stellar musicians in town. Several times a year, a few of the players break off from the herd and present chamber concerts at the Perelman Theater. Last Sunday (June 20, the last day of spring), I was treated to one of these programs when a friend e-mailed me about a spare ticket. The bill included Glazunov's String Quintet Op. 39 (scored for two cellos, according to the program notes, but with one of the parts given to a bass player this time out for some reason), and Brahms’s Second Piano Quartet, both very well played. The Brahms was particularly memorable.

The afternoon began with Movement in Time, for two percussionists and tape, by Maurice Wright, a professor at Temple University. Kind of an uninspired title (all music is movement in time), but it was a lively, almost spritely piece that gave Don Liuzzi and Anthony Orlando an excuse to run around the stage and wallop a large number of very loud instruments. I don't ordinarily think of music for multiple percussion instruments as "light" — the one piece that comes to mind immediately, Varese's Ionisation, is a violent, dark-cloud case in point — but that is what Movement in Time was. It was playful music, with an occasional burst of wit, as when, for example, the performers are required to beat a single snare drum simultaneously, and they suddenly cut the music short by raising their sticks and crossing them with a click. Cute, and it got a laugh.

Wright isn't one of those heart-on-his-sleeve, look-at-how-brave-I-am-for-writing-commercial-pap composers I despise, at least not in this piece, but he seems to be after the fun kind of modernism that Alexander Calder achieved in sculpture. Unfortunately, the music was so slight that most of it, except for that click, evaporated in the memory almost at once.

The tape accompaniment was a distraction, too. The sounds generated weren't so much electronic music as recordings or synthesized imitations of a chorus and orchestra. A friend of mine who attended with me wondered why, if Wright was going to take that route, he didn't just put a few more musicians on the stage.

A perfectly pleasant, digestible piece, but it hardly opens up new vistas the way Ionisation did.

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