On Sunday night the University of Iowa’s Center for New Music (CNM) presented the works of U. Iowa alumnus and Pulitzer Prize wining composer David Lang. The concert also featured pieces by Michael D’Ambosio and Brian Ciach, who was in attendance and played his own work. I have always found David Lang’s music very interesting and having been to a couple of lectures that he has presented in the past has added to that interest. His ideas for compositions are always very specific and often deeply philosophical. He also strives to compose in a way that challenges the performers, usually with repetitive rhythmic patters that differ just enough that the performer has to stay focused throughout the piece.
The concert began with one of my favorite works, “Cheating, Lying, Stealing.” Since I played on this piece I wont talk about it to much. As Lang says in his program notes he wanted to change the typical idea of a composer writing about what they like about themselves and instead decided to write about what he disliked about himself. This idea can be seen the two brake drum parts that are used to accent the rhythmic cell. The parts are written at forte with accents on every note and are intended to be the focus of the work. As he told the ensemble during the sound check, “this is a concerto for break drums.” The abrasive break drum parts are offset by a beautiful but very difficult cello melody. We decided to amplify Tom Maples’ cello to help him be heard over the rest of the ensemble, and when Lang saw this he told Tom that “the microphone shouldn’t make it easier to play, it will just make it easier for everyone to hear you struggle.” For those that were not able to attend the concert here is a link to a performance of “Cheating, Lying, Stealing.”
The second piece of the concert was a piano sonata written and performed by Brian Ciach. In watching his performance and hearing the way it was composed it was obvious that he had a deep personal connection with each note that he played. The first movement, World of Hate, began with a thick chord played in a Stravinsky-esque rhythm at the bottom of the piano. The first movement continued to show the composers anger with closely voiced chords and, for lack of better words, pounding on the keyboard. The second movement, Broken Love, traveled through a number of the composers emotions, from overwhelming sadness to jubilation and back.
“Pierced” by David Lang featured Anthony Arnone as the cello soloist as well as Casey Rafn on piano and Andy Thierauf on percussion with additional member of the CNM ensemble. This piece was composed with the idea that the three soloists were playing playing together and the CNM ensemble was playing together. It starts with the three soloists playing a pointilistic, highly chromatic melody while the CNM ensemble played a more traditional chord progression. During the piece the roles switch and the Piano and Percussion begin playing a chord progression made up of simpler major and minor chords with a cello solo soaring over the top. While they have become more traditionally tonal, the members of the CNM ensemble begin playing more dense harmonies in sharp rhythms. This combination created a really interesting juxtaposition of tonal and atonal, but despite the fact that they do not seem like they would work together to the listener it comes across as one cohesive idea.
“Super Groove” by Mike D’Ambrosio was performed wonderfully by Elliot Czaplewski on oboe and Casey Rafn on piano. That being said this composition was probably my least favorite of the night. The title of the piece gave me an expectation of a funky, Tower Of Power, like groove but I felt like the work ended up being sort of floaty and it seemed to drag on for a long time. Harmonically the piece was very interesting and it’s possible I would have enjoyed the piece more if I did not have the preconceptions of what the piece should sound like, but with a concert filled with amazing compositions it seemed out of place.
The final piece of the program was another David Lang piece called “Increase.” This piece featured challenging rhythmic patterns with slight variations as the piece progressed. While the ensemble continues to play short, busy, rhythmic passages the stings begin playing a beautiful melody made up of mostly longer note values that create a nice compliment to the busy underlay. In true David Lang style near the middle of the piece heavy percussion kicks in and begins accenting specific beats. After a dropping of all the instruments except flute and vibraphone a thick texture is created by having everyone join back in at the same time, all playing forte that goes until the entire ensemble abruptly stops signaling the end of the piece.
All of the works presented in this concert were well executed by the CNM ensemble members and made for a fantastic evening of great music. It was very evident that all of the performers, as well as Dr. David Gompper and Professor Zachary Stanton worked hard to show our guest composers that the University of Iowa can execute these extremely difficult works and put on a thrilling concert for the audience.