A New Music Concert in St. Peter’s Church

Alan Smithee

[May 2010.]

With its modernist, open space, St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan is a good place to listen to music. “The Jazz Church” as it is called recently hosted a New York Composer’s Circle program of varied new music (April 27, 2010).

The opening work, Fantasy for Viola and Piano, is rooted in Russian soil. The pianist / composer Nataliya Medvedovskaya and her violist, Chie-Fan Yiu, performed as a first-rate ensemble. In her opening remarks, Ms. Medvedovskaya spoke about the work’s complexity, alternating lyricism and spiky riffs. This listener heard a Shostakovichian influence — not a bad tradition from which to draw inspiration.

Next, Four Vignettes for Solo Clarinet by Roger Blanc. Jessica Sibelman played with a luscious legato and contrasting staccato. However, the work never quite succeeded in exploring the instrument’s full range. The four movements suffered from excessive similarities.

Last on the program’s first half was Hubert Howe’s Sextet for violin, viola, cello, clarinet, flute and piano. Mr. Howe claims never to have heard anything like the music he composes. I found this a provocative statement inasmuch as I soon became aware of Feldmanesque touches in timing and spatial effects. The work’s pointlessness may well be an expression of an Existentialist “Why?”

The pianist, for example, held notes for what seemed an eternity with no observable purpose, direction, fulfillment of sonority, or need to know what happens next. Well enough crafted, the music remained a frustration.

Following intermission, Eugene Marlow presented his Une jeune fille d’amoureuse des fleurs auprès de la rivière Ouche à Dijon for viola and cello, an easygoing delight based on a special time in the composer’s life, expressed with Gallic charm. Cellist Zsaz Rutkowski and violist Edward Klorman performed with élan.

Tuesday night’s performers did justice to the music even when the music itself lacked a sense of purpose. I’m not suggesting that every piece need be a Mahler symphony. A well-conceived lighthearted work can speak to the emotions with clarity and wit. I think that the performers were tasked with bringing to life uneventful work.

Morning Night and Noon for two clarinets by Peri Mauer stood out as appealing and original. Ismail Lumanovski and Vaski Dukovski reacted to each other and to the music with imagination and energy.

In Night one truly felt midnight’s eerie darkness. Her portrayal of the composer David Noon (Ms. Mauer’s former teacher) was vibrantly eccentric and electrically charged. The music displayed creativity throughout the triptych.

Last on the program was Robert S. Cohen’s String Quartet No. 2. The programmatic work portrayed a dancer’s life: exercising, a day job, remaining true to art in the face of a deteriorating physique. The score’s sparkle combined with the players’ panache brought the concert to a splendid conclusion.