Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Third Angle pitches new music in library racks at Mount Angel Abbey

Photo credit: Tom Emerson Photography

Guest review by Curtis Heikkinen

Over the past several years, there has been considerable discussion about the need to alter the way classical music is presented to the public. The Third Angle New Music program (Light and Music in Aalto’s Library), presented at the Mount Angel Abbey on Sunday (October 4), provided a glimpse into one possible future for classical music concerts (at least for small ensembles). The concert I attended was one of six given over the course of two days and was designed to celebrate the Abbey Library. Third Angle’s imaginative program featured works by two Finnish composers: Magnus Lindberg’s Clarinet Quintet from 1992, and Einojuhani Rautavaara’s “Herran Rukous” (“The Lords’ Prayer”) from 1973. The program also included two Gregorian Chants, the “Antiphon for St. Benedict” and “Psalm 8,” by the Capella Romana vocal ensemble. The program specifically consisted of an initial recital in which the quintet was performed, an audience exploration of the library, with accompanying sounds and words, and a finale that featured the vocal works.

Photo credit: Curtis Heikkinen
 Magnus Lindberg is certainly one of our most important living composers. His body of work includes a large number of orchestral pieces, including his Clarinet Concerto from 2002, a work that deserves a Portland performance, and a substantial number of works for smaller ensembles, including a superb trio for clarinet, cello and piano from 2008. The clarinet trio is probably a little easier listen than the clarinet quintet, which consists of a single movement just shy of twenty minutes long.

Lindberg has described the piece as “insect like,” which would not be an unreasonable description. A dissonant work of great intensity, the quintet features an attractive beginning in which the clarinet commences the proceedings, after which the strings quickly join in. The score thereafter is quite dense. For me, the most interesting portions of the work occur at roughly the 10 minute mark. At that point, after some relatively introspective passages for the clarinet, the intensity is increased substantially as the clarinet explores the extremes of its register. The effect was seemingly one of extreme anguish. For an admirer of musical dissonance, this was heady stuff. It was at this point that the insect analogy seemed most appropriate. The intensity decreased a bit toward the end of the piece, which ended ambiguously with the clarinet dispatching the final notes in a manner that reminded me somewhat of the finale of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony.

Before the concert, I had some concerns about the unusual format that required the musicians to play this demanding work three times on Saturday and three more on Sunday. Sitting in on the next to last performance, I wondered if the considerable demands of the piece would result in some loss of focus after so many performances. My concerns were quickly put to rest. Louis DeMartino gave a bravura performance of the demanding clarinet portion, which required him to play continuously. He was ably accompanied by violinists Ron Blessinger and Greg Ewer, violist Charles Noble, and cellist Marilyn De Oliveira. The performance hall was suitably intimate and, from where I sat in the rear of the hall, comfortably contained the extremes of pitch.

After completion of the recital portion of the program, the musicians led the audience to the library, where we were encouraged to explore the magnificent facility as the string players spread out to various stations where they drew their bows across wine glasses filled with precise amounts of fluid. This was intended to create a perfect pitch designed to match the resonant frequency of the building. The eerie sound effect continued as members of Cappella Romana recited the words of the library’s architect, Alvar Aalto, at various positions throughout the library. Any initial discomfort I may have felt as a result of this most unusual way of integrating audience and library into the program quickly dissipated. It seemed a most ingenious and effective way to introduce the audience to the beautifully designed library.

Photo credit: Tom Emerson Photography
Eventually, the members of Capella Romana gathered in the center of the library for the recitation of the Gregorian Chants. I expected a lot from that ensemble and was not disappointed. The members performed the chants with a lovely tone. The concert concluded with the Rautavaara’s “The Lord’s Prayer” for mixed choir, which featured exquisite balance and faultless intonation. Given the library’s fine acoustics and spiritual nature of the work, the conclusion to the concert was most moving.

Photo credit: Curtis Heikkinen   

Photo credit: Curtis Heikkinen

Curtis Heikkinen became a classical music fan after moving to Oregon over 30 years ago. He is especially fond of 20th Century and contemporary composers. He believes that, in order for classical music to prosper, performers, orchestras, and radio stations must find a way to move beyond standard repertoire.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it was a magical experience!