Saturday, April 23, 2016

In praise of new music

I've never made a secret of the fact I'm a bel canto bear and don't always understand new music. Much of it I find beautiful and moving. I still can't talk about Jake Heggie's Dead ManWalking without getting misty, for instance. (I know it's almost ancient, having been premiered in 2000, but it's new music to me.) Nonetheless I was pleased to be invited twice to a concert on Sunday afternoon of new music for flute and soprano. First by the composer of one of the pieces on the concert, a longtime friend, and second by a member of the board of the organization that presented the concert, The Phoenix Concerts. The concert itself was to celebrate the release of a new CD by Lindsey Goodman, flute, and Gilda Lyons, soprano. Gilda Lyons was also one of the composers represented on the concert.

Lindsey Goodman, flute
I can't talk about every piece, of course, but I'll mention a few.  The first was Jeffrey Nytch's Covenant (2012), for soprano, flute, and alto flute.  Text is from a moving poem by Jessica Melilli-Hand called Wedding Poem.  The poem uses moments of normal, every day intimacy to portray a truly loving relationship:  "Do you understand? I'm trying/to open my mouth around a language/better suited for fingers." I enjoyed how the alto flute alternated between being a drone and having a weaving melody that intermingled with those of the flute and the soprano.

The excerpts from Dear Youth (1990) by Daron Hagen were particularly effective. Mr Hagen is a Civil War buff, and the texts for these songs come from the letters of women of the era.  One of them reads, "This is Christmas night and I am all alone and lonely.... I hope this awful war will soon close and we will be happy once more." These songs were commissioned and premiered in 1991 by the trio Sonus.

Penelope's Song by Judith Shatin is a tribute to Penelope, Queen of Ithaca and wife of Odysseus in Homer's epic The Odyssey. Odysseus was kept away at sea for 20 years, and one of Penelope's ruses to ward of unwelcome suitors was to make them wait until she had finished weaving a shroud for her father in law Laertes. The suitors never knew she unraveled by night all the work she had done during the day. The composer recorded the sounds of actual weaving on a loom, and electronically manipulated them in many ways to make the wide array of weaving sounds with which the flute enjoys play.

Once again, I know almost nothing about new music, but I found something to enjoy about every piece on this concert. I'd highly recommend the CD, too!

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