When I heard that Tony Arnold (soprano) would not be performing in Sunday’s concert, I was disappointed not to get the chance to see her in concert. However, the Center for New Music was able to put on another impressive and enjoyable program with very little notice, erasing any trace of disappointment from my mind. This concert featured guest artist Michael Norsworthy on clarinet and UI’s own David Gompper on piano, performing a diverse array of works composed from 1969 to 2007.
The concert took place in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber, a plush and intimate venue. Because of this, Mr. Norsworthy was able to take off his jacket and address the audience informally, sharing anecdotes and explaining what to listen for in each piece. Although he is a fixture in the new music world, he took great care to make the concert accessible to those who may be less than familiar with or appreciative of contemporary styles.
The opening piece was a relatively well known minimalist work by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt called Spiegel im Spiegel (mirror in the mirror) for clarinet and piano, and it exemplifies Pärt’s Tintinnabular style. The title is meant to evoke the image of infinite reflections created by two mirrors facing each other. It features a diatonic pitch collection with exclusively tonic harmony. The clarinet plays long tones in stepwise motion, and the tonicity is occasionally reinforced by a bass pedal in the piano part, with steady arpeggiations in triple time above (think Moonlight Sonata). I have heard this piece performed on cello before, and really enjoyed the smooth, meditative tones that the clarinet version added.
The next two pieces, Gerard Grisey’s Charme and Bruno Mantovani’s Bug, stood in stark contrast to the easy, contemplative opening. Charme has been called a spectral work, though Grisey preferred the term “liminal” to describe the threshold between the conceptual and the actual as it pertains to musical parameters. Bug is a programmatic piece about a computer virus, although Mr. Norsworthy explained that he envisions a “mosquito on crack.” I am not sure how the pitch material was generated for either piece, but both were largely gestural, incorporating extended techniques such as multiphonics, key clicks, blowing air through the instrument and pulsing dynamic changes. Both works were obviously very difficult but performed with astounding facility.
The piano was brought back for the conclusion of the first half, Michael Finnissy’s Clarinet Sonata. Finnissy, a composer in the New Complexity School, wrote this piece (and several others) for Michael Norsworthy. Finnissy derived the pitch material for the piano from Beethoven’s piano sonata op. 110., although it was retrograded and not aurally recognizable. There was no apparent pulse or tonality, but the texture was organized into lyrical phrases and occasionally, tonal-sounding dyads emerged. The performers helped to engage the audience with their expressive movements and sensitive phrasing.
The second half of the program was comprised of just one piece, Tierkreis (Zodiac) by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Norsworthy explained that Stockhausen was an eccentric person who believed he was from outer space, and this piece reflects his interest in the cosmos. Each of the twelve short movements corresponds with a different sign of the Zodiac. It is not a tonal piece, but uses motivic development to characterize each sign, like a modern Carnival of the Animals. My favorite movement was Taurus, which opened with a bass groove in the extreme low range of the piano punctuated by clusters in the extreme high range. The extended techniques in this piece were not prolific but were very effective and unique. For example, at one point Gompper silently depressed a cluster of keys with his forearms as well as the damper pedal, and Norsworthy played with his bell in the piano, creating a really interesting aesthetic with sympathetic vibrations. This piece shattered all my preconceived notions of Stockhausen’s music, and I was completely delighted by it.
The sensitivity, care, virtuosity and wit displayed in this program invited the audience in, ensuring that each member’s understanding of new music was enriched in some way. If you ever have a chance to see Michael Norsworthy in concert, by all means take it.
I hope that Ms. Arnold is able to return to campus soon, but until then, we wish her the best!