The Center for New Music’s Composers Workshop concert on Sunday, November 6, at 7:30 p.m. featured some of the latest solo and chamber instrumental compositions of the UI’s graduate student composers. In most of the works on the program, it was clear the composers were really striving to explore the use of extended techniques, utilizing extremes of range, unusual instrumental combinations, pitch bending, and artificial harmonics. The two pieces written for unusual instrumental combinations were Aaron Perrine’s “Bridge Suite” for saxophone and cello and Yunsoo Kim’s Duo for bass trombone and trumpet. In Perrine’s piece, the cello’s double-stops and forte passages combined with the dynamic sensitivity of Nathan Bogert really impressed me, resulting in a performance where one could hear both instruments equally well despite the more powerful nature of the alto saxophone. The trumpet and bass trombone duo had a challenging bass trombone part, often requiring the player to play in the extreme ranges of the instrument. Kim utilized many extended techniques possible on the bass trombone, including multiphonics (where the player sings one note while buzzing another – resulting in two pitches being heard at once) and the use of a variety of smears and glissandi. Kim explored a variety of timbres on the bass trombone, but to my surprise, wrote a more conventional trumpet part.
Extended techniques and exploration of the timbres of string instruments were a big part of the three string quartet works on the program: Sundown, by Zach Zubow, Chiasma, by Matthew Smart, and String Quartet #1 by Brian Penkrot. The piece was an excellent musical depiction of the sun drifting away, and I loved the idea of each player letting go of their note one by one, as if the sun were drifting away in the distance. In this piece and Chiasma, it seemed as if the composers were more interested in sound and harmony, instead of melody and motivic development. Particularly in Brian Penkrot’s String Quartet #1, there were so many glissandi, pitch bends, artificial harmonics, and other unconventional string sounds that I was kept in constant anticipation at what new sound or extended technique would be next.
In contrast, the program also included pieces like Leonid Iogansen’s “Tango…” for two violins, Jason Palamara’s “crawly” for violin and guitar, and William Huff’s “Prosodic Units” for unaccompanied flute, which placed less emphasis on extended techniques. “Tango…” was reminiscent of the work of Bartok and even some of the composers of the Second Viennese School. The guitar and violin duo “crawly” was a fun piece and I felt that the music, depicting the composer’s experience upon waking up at 3 a.m. and thinking he saw something moving, fit the title well. William Huff’s Prosodic Units was a nice addition to an already established repertoire: unaccompanied flute solos. Placed second to last in the program, this piece placed little emphasis on extended techniques and left room for the performer to express herself.
At least five of the eight composers on this program did not seem content in using instruments conventionally, but wanted to use the instruments to create to create sounds that would fit their musical ideas. I think it was good that these up-and-coming composers were willing to take the risk of being experimental and in exploring the different sounds that are possible with our traditional orchestral instruments. Even as an audience member working on a master’s degree in music, I must admit that my interest was greatly heightened in hearing instruments used in ways that I am not used to hearing them. As one who has conducted some research on how to increase interest in live classical music in America, the excitement of new, experimental music that creates sounds seldom heard from traditional instruments could be a draw for potential audience members as it greatly heightened my interest during the program. At the same time, I also appreciated the fact that three of the eight composers were also willing to emulate past styles in creating their own work. Doing so provides a refreshing balance to too much experimentation and extended techniques and prevents experimentation becoming an end in itself. It was good to see both adherents of both the new and the traditional at this concert.
To read the program notes from the evening’s program, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/~cnm/46.111106.html. Some of the composers from the evening’s concert maintain personal websites or blogs, and these links are provided below: