Boyle, Hertzberg, Bunch, Rogerson
Twenty years ago, Young Concert Artists, a premiere outfit which for over fifty years has launched the careers of many top-notch classical musicians (from Emanuel Ax through Pinchas Zukerman), started promoting composers as well. On this night, it presented a concert consisting entirely of music by four composers from its roster, performed mostly by its musician alumni. The results were decidedly mixed.
Benjamin Boyle’s Sonata-Cantilena opened the program, an OK but none-too-exciting work performed by the inexpressive flautist Mimi Stillman accompanied by a surprisingly fat-fingered and inaccurate Charles Abramovic (not a YCA alumnus). Would better musicians have made this work more compelling? I’m not sure.
David Hertzberg’s Orgie Céleste, having its world premiere, shook the audience back awake – indeed, the clarinet line could have doubled as an alarm clock. Some very fine musicians (Narek Arutyunian on the clarinet, Paul Huang on the violin, and Ursula Oppens on the piano – all of them YCA performers) tried their best, though.
Three works by Kenji Bunch after the intermission marked the concert’s highlight, demonstrating three contrasting styles. First came a melancholic duet, I Dream in Evergreen, with Bunch himself on the viola accompanied by his wife, Monica Ohuchi, on piano. This work had no fixed tempi or harmonies, the two instruments improvising and finding each other freely – which could have produced chaos but instead, at least with this tandem, resulted in creative collaboration and concord. Etude #4 for solo piano allowed Ohuchi to attack the keyboard breathlessly but well within control. And the final Bunch work, Étouffée for solo viola, showcased Bunch’s total talents, its Cajun-inspired rhythms animating the audience.
The Opus One (a piano quartet, two of whose members are YCA alums) concluded the concert with Chris Rogerson’s Summer Night Music for Piano Quartet, another balanced piece, whose four movements displayed a composer eager to demonstrate experimental, but thankfully tonal, textures.
I did not sit down to write this review that evening, as I normally would – indeed, I waited a couple of weeks for the concert to digest. It went down without indigestion, I am pleased to report, but may not have been the most memorable meal. In all, was this concert a good evening’s entertainment? Yes. Did I learn anything from the selection of new music? Not really. I’d want to hear the Bunch works again to see if they would hold up. Or something else by Bunch. He had the most to say, even if using the fewest ingredients.