Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Second New@Noon concert an experimental hodgepodge

Tara Helen O'Connor and Daniel Phillilps | Photo by Tom Emerson
Chamber Music Northwest's second New@Noon performance was a mishmash of experimental works that explored purely instrumental pieces for one or two players as well as world premiere arrangements of songs for voice, clarinet, and piano. The concert took place before an appreciative and polite audience in Lincoln Hall on the campus of Portland State University on Friday, July 10th.

Flutist Tara Helen O’Connor made a lasting impression with an inspired performance of “Zoom Tube.” In less than five minutes, she explored a huge array of sounds with flusters, loud whispers, rhythmic puffs, loosey goosey tones, speaking (sort of) into the mouthpiece and playing at the same time. At one point, she held a note and went up the scale on another note at the same time (if I heard that right), and just before the end of the piece, she let out an affirmative “Yo!”

With her husband, violinist Daniel Phillips, O’Connor played Chris Rogerson’s “Quiet Song,” which began in a gently lyrical way and finished with a degree of tonal angularity that reminded me of Copland. This was followed by a long, dissonant piece called “Fantasy Etude” for solo violin that was written by Eugene Phillips, the father of Daniel Phillips. Because the score had an unwieldy 16 staves, it Phillips read it from an ipad, transitioning from page to page by hovering his foot over a pedal on the floor. But despite Phillips’s silky playing the piece just didn’t go anywhere in particular.

Next came two sets of improvisations by cellists Fred Sherry and Jay Campbell. Their playing took on a conversational style especially when one musician reacted to the playing of the other. Overall, the conversation was mostly pleasant, but it took an argumentative streak when Sherry stirred things up, grumbling from the lower register of his cello. That was fun to hear.

The last half of the program was devoted to five songs inspired by the poetry of Lucy Miller Murray, who is the founder of a successful chamber music series in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania called Market Square Concerts. Each piece was written by a different composer: Jeremy Gill, Richard Wilson, Michael Brown, Paul Moravec, and Jake Heggie. They originally wrote their songs for mezzo-soprano and piano, and later added an obbligato for clarinet in a special arrangement for this concert. Miller Murray, Gill, and Wilson were in attendance and spoke a few words before the performance began.

The length of the introduction might have caused most singers to reach for a water bottle, but Canadian mezzo-soprano Evanna Chiew has steely nerves to go along with her lovely voice. She sang each number with passion and with a big sound that was a little too much for the confines of Room 175. I would have liked to have heard some pianissimos from her, but maybe all of the pieces she sang were written for mezzo-forte to double forte. Perhaps that was due the serious nature of the texts. Chiew’s singing was skillfully accompanied by pianist Yevgeny Yontov and clarinetist David Shifrin.

I was most impressed with Gill’s “Words” which had a wide, dramatic range for such a short poem. Wilson’s “On the Death of Juan Gelman” and Brown’s “Ambiguous Angel” struck me with their declamatory and strident tone. Unfortunately, I didn’t recover in time to focus on Moravec’s “Oh, Poor Words.” The last song in the set, Heggie’s “Would That I Were Edna St. Vincent Millay” had an infectious, cheeky piano part. But the vocal part, oddly, ended with a demonstrative tone. It was too bad that there wasn’t a least one more lighter, humorous piece to follow it.
Shifrin, Yontov, and Chiew | Photo by Tom Emerson

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