Thursday, July 9, 2015

New@Noon kicks off with Svoboda, Schoenfeld, and the new kid on the block: Rogerson

Chris Rogerson
The inaugural concert of Chamber Music Northwest’s New@Noon series made a strong statement for new music by devoting an entire program to works by living composers. The concert, which took place on Friday afternoon (July 3) in Room 175 of Lincoln Hall, featured a piece by Tomas Svoboda, the West coast premiere of a work by Paul Schoenfeld, and three pieces by newcomer Chris Rogerson including a world premiere.

The oldest piece on the program was Svoboda’s Viola Sonata, which he wrote in 1961 when he was 22 years old and a student at the Prague Conservatory. Played by violist Steven Tenenbom and pianist Julia Hsu, the Viola Sonata had a delightful mixture of serious and humorous moods. Some of the warmest phrases in the piece came from Tenenbom while many of the lightest were created by Hsu. The third movement, “Allegro con humore” ended the piece on a playful upswing, which the audience responded to enthusiastically, cheering the performers and Svoboda, a dean of Pacific Northwest composers, who was in attendance.

In introducing Paul Schoenfeld “Sonatina No. 2 for Klezmer Clarinet and Piano” CMNW artistic director and clarinetist David Shifrin pointed out that Schoenfeld performed many years at festival. He also mentioned that Schoenfeld’s piece, completed last year, was commissioned by a consortium of almost fifty clarinetists and surely Schifrin was one of them.

In the hands of Shrifrin and pianist Yevgeny Yontov (who made his CMNW debut with this piece), “Sonatina No. 2” started out with an abstract feel. A sudden crescendo and a soaring high note by Shifrin shook things up a bit and the music became more immediate. After a dramatic pause, a klezmer tune broke into the mix and Yontov got to show off some flashy licks. Shifrin got in some wonderful riffs, also, and the piece closed out with a bang, which the audience absolutely loved.

Born in 1988, Rogerson has racked up some impressive academic credentials having studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Yale School of Music. Over the last few years, he has garnered many commissions and performances from orchestras, including the Atlanta Symphony, the Kansas City Symphony, and the Buffalo Philharmonic. He has already received a Theodore Presser Career Grant, the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, and the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The New@Noon concert opened with Rogerson’s “Lullaby: no bad dreams,” which was inspired by a bedtime ritual that Rogerson when growing up used to prevent nightmares. The playing of violinist Ida Kavafian and pianist Yekwon Sunwoo exquisitely draped the audience with the lyricism of drifting into sleep before becoming animated with disturbing dreams and then relaxing into gentle sleep once more. This was a lovely piece that was very appealing and easy to digest.

Rogerson’s String Quartet No. 1, performed by the Jasper String Quartet, also offered a marvelous blend of ideas. The first of three movements, “Duel,” grabbed everyone’s attention right off the bat with a series of slashing, accented notes. That transitioned to a hard driving sequence that slowed down a bit before picking up speed with the two violins against a pulsating cello and viola. “Hymn” featured poignant lines, a sweeping surge by the ensemble, and a settling down into the depths. Highlights from “Dance” included its fanfare beginning, a large section of virtuosic, fast playing, and a bright ending. Overall, the String Quartet No. 1 sounded wonderfully fresh and different yet sort of familiar – a terrific piece.

The concert ended with the world premiere of Rogerson’s “Constellations,” a three-movement work that was inspired by earlier composers. The first movement, “Ara” channeled Beethoven in a languid, mysterious and abstract way. The second, “Pavo,” drew on Mozart with short bursts by the viola (Tenenbom) and a soaring clarinet line (Shifrin) with light piano accompaniment (Sunwoo). The third, “Cygnus,” quoted from the “Adagio” of Haydn’s Sonata in D Major with the piano often in the lead. That left me with the impression of the composer staring at the stars on a summer evening in a meditative way. It was pleasant music but a tad dull.

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