Last year, when Chamber Music Northwest uncorked its New@Noon series, the concerts drew enthusiastic but small crowds. Based on what I was last Friday (July 15) at Lincoln Recital Hall, New@Noon is catching on. All of the seats weren’t filled, but the size of the audience seemed to have doubled, filling about 75 percent of the space. That’s good news for contemporary composers, because the concert programs feature only new works. The performance I heard contained works of Joel Hoffman, Martin Bresnick, and Richard Danielpour, three composers who have had a strong relationship with Chamber Music Northwest over the years.
The concert began with “Fantasia Fiorentina,” a free-spirited duet for violin and piano written in 1988 by Canadian composer Joel Hoffman. In a brief introductory remark, the violinist, Benjamin Hoffman, mentioned that piece was written before he, the violinist, was born, so there was extra-intrinsic connection between him and the piece. As for the music itself, the violin part roamed all over the landscape with lots of florid passages. The piano part, sensitively played by Vevgeny Yontov, countered the violin’s constant travelling with soft chords that sounded like bells in the distance.
Next, composer Martin Bresnick came to the stage to introduce his piece “And I Always Thought,” which was commissioned in honor of Anzac Day, an important national occasion in Australia that marks the tragic Gallipoli campaign in WWI. After noting that he has always had reservations about warfare, Bresnick told how he was inspired by two poems of Bertolt Brecht and that he had sought permission to use their texts but to no avail. Consequently, his “And I Always Thought” became a dialogue between the musicians without words. Friday’s noontime performance offered a soulful exchange between clarinetist David Shifrin, violinist AniKavafian, and pianist Lisa Moore (who btw is married to Bresnick).
Starting out in the low register of the clarinet, Shifrin created a solemn statement that was joined by rumblings in the basement of the piano. Somewhere along the way the violin joined the fray but the three instrumentalists seemed to peel off on divergent routes – some of which were jauntily and others angry. I can’t recall which mood won out, but a truce of sorts – in the form of a pause – reset the situation. The next section featured arching lines for the violin and a more harmonious style that included an extended set of trills by all three instrumentalists. The sonic texture acquired a harsh and tragic sentiment before the final measures which were dominated by arpeggios from the keyboard and slightly strident tones from the clarinet and violin.
Richard Danielpour’s Clarinet Quintet, commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest, receive its second-ever performance at this concert. The first performance took place the night before (you can read my colleague Lorin Wilkerson’s review of it here) at Reed College. Before Shifrin and the Dover Quartet (violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, and cellist Camden Shaw) launched into the piece, Danielpour came up front to talk a little about it. Subtitled “The Last Jew in Hamadan,” the music was inspired by the city of Hamadan, Iran, where some of Danielpour’s relatives were born. In the past, Hamadan had a thriving Jewish population, but that is no more.
The Clarinet Quintet had two halves: the first was lively (inspired by Danielpour’s memories of growing up in Iran) and the second a lamentation of what Iran has become. The playing of Shifrin and the Dover Quartet matched the description very well. The first half was bouncy and energetic. Shifrin created a buzzy tone that added a middle-eastern flair and at times, there was an echoing of themes going on between him and the quartet. A transitioning section established a solemn atmosphere with the clarinet sailing above a refined drone from the strings. Emotive solos from the viola and cello were followed by stirring, virtuosic passages. That was followed by a pause and then a duet between the first violinist and Shifrin that was supported by the rest of the ensemble. The music acquired a serious and probing nature with a lovely, searching elegy. Overall, it was a somber and terrific tribute to a troubled part of the world.