Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two days, two concerts

I’m getting out more these days, hearing more live music than even just a year ago. Two very different but satisfying concerts back to back this weekend. I previewed both for Ticket. (See the links to your left.) Friday night, The Crossing performed contemporary choral works at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian. Last night, at Delaware Valley College, the Lenape Chamber ensemble presented more standard fare ― Prokofiev's Sonata for Two Violins, Chopin's G minor Cello Sonata, and Beethoven's first Razumovsky Quartet. The Beethoven was a fortuitous, since I've been listening to the string quartets on recordings quite a bit recently. It was wonderful to hear it live.

The concerts at Delaware Valley College take place in the school cafeteria, an unpromising location. Listeners sit in rows of plastic, molded seats set up for the occasion, and the noise of the air conditioning gets in the way during the quiet moments, but once you get over it, the acoustics are actually very good. The Beethoven, especially, was clear as a bell, and beautifully played. I was most impressed with the precision and the clean intonations in the feather-light second movement.

The Crossing concert included the world premiere of Lansing McCloskey’s “Memory of Rain,” on a Philip Levine. I was fortunate enough to sit next to the composer during the performance. He drew into himself as he listened — eyes closed, head bowed, arms folded, legs crossed. His only criticism of the performance was that the chorus was about a quartertone off from the organ, making the piece “microtonal” where it wasn’t intended to be. It didn’t matter. I liked it either way. I also liked it, I guess, because it was the one secular piece on a program swimming in Christian sadomasochism. (“I am worthless, Lord. Love me.”) Another composer, who I know is devout and whose music will be performed by the Crossing next week, told me during the reception, jocularly, that if religious isn’t annoying and offensive, then it isn’t doing its job. Well, it did its job Friday.

The other highlight of the evening, Francis Pott’s “My Song is Love Unknown” (on another religious text), stood out for its refreshing return to counterpoint. The same composer I spoke to at the reception tells me it’s a lost art among contemporary composers. Too much modern music, even the most aggressively "accessible," walks in lockstep, content to make one, single pretty sound after another. Interweaving contrapuntal lines re-introduce the element of story. They're like an argument, he said.

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