Monday, March 17, 2008

Guest Review: Friends of Rain concert

Elizabeth Dyson, a molecular biologist who plays piano and cello and is studying composition at Marylhurst wrote this review of new music.

The Friends of Rain, an ensemble of musicians from the faculty of Lewis & Clark College, put on an exciting performance of contemporary music Saturday evening (March 15) in Evans Auditorium. They performed five diverse and challenging pieces for a variety of ensembles. The concert opened with the newest piece, Summer Rhapsody (2008), which is a brass quintet by Michael Johansen. This cheerful work, inspired by the arrival of summer sun to the Pacific Northwest, gave each of the instruments a chance to shine. It was dedicated to tuba player John Richards, a long-time member of the Lewis and Clark faculty, who was in attendance.

Next, two pianists and two percussionists, each surrounded by a multitude of instruments, played two movements of George Crumb’s Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III, 1974). The piece featured a tremendous variety of sounds from the eerie whine of a bass bow on a cymbal to the rapping of temple blocks and the sparkling ring of crotales. The pianists not only played the keyboard and the pedals, but also plucked and tapped the strings, and at times placed objects on them.

My son, Christopher, who participates in Fear No Music's Young Composers' Workshop, accompanied me and said this was his favorite piece in the concert because he had heard it before. He also mentioned that he could understand it better after hearing it a second time. I think he had a good point. I often feel, after hearing a complex piece of contemporary music, such as the Crumb, that I would get a lot more out of it if I could hear it a second time.

The biggest marimba that I have ever seen was wheeled on to the stage for the next piece, Un ser encantado, agues salidas y piedras infinitas (An enchanted being, salty waters and infinite stones, 1997) by Illeana Perez-Vasquez. Also scored for two pianos and two percussionists, this work incorporated many of the same piano and percussion special effects as Music for a Summer Evening but was more lyrical and included rhythms inspired by Cuban music. The composer was present and gave a short lecture about her music before the concert.

Elisa Maattanen-Boynton skillfully negotiated long phrases of double stops in Arioso interrotto (1979) for solo violin by Einar Englund. Sustained melodic lines at the beginning and end of the piece, were interrupted by a more abrupt middle section with many short phrases and pizzicatos.

The concert ended with the largest ensemble of the evening (nine musicians) playing Sparkle (1992) by Chen Yi. The music was energetic, full of trills and glissandos and contained lots of vigorous work for the three percussionists.

I found the concert fun to watch as well as to hear. The performers, although they were clearly working hard, appeared to enjoy it too. If I heard these pieces performed again, I would enjoy them more even more.

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