Dan Albertson

[June 2012.]

[This concert was the termination of an excursion to Philadelphia, PA. Thank you, Lisa Freeman, but thank you most of all, Henri Tran, for a week of edification and for building bridges between reality and surreality. D.A.]

Aaron COPLAND: Prelude for Chamber Orchestra (1924, arr. 1934). Carlos SÁNCHEZ-GUTIÉRREZ: Diaries (2012, première)1. Ursula MAMLOK: Concerto for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra (1974-76, rev. 2003)2. Pierre JALBERT: Les espaces infinis (2001). Anthony CHEUNG: Fog Mobiles (2010, première of reduced version)3. Daniel Pesca1 (pf), Jacqueline Leclair2 (ob), Saar Berger3 (hn), Orchestra of the League of Composers, James Baker (cond.). Miller Theatre, Columbia University, NYC, Jun. 4, 2012.

Regular readers could divine that American music is anathema to me. In eight years of writing occasional articles for LF, Americans have occurred with extreme infrequency. This concert failed to change the mind about the demerits of American music, then and now, but much more than one concert of orchestral music would be necessary to accomplish such a mission. Maybe the psyche prefers the status quo.

Before addressing the music, the host of the evening deserves a mention of his own, because his inanity reached a level of high horror. John Schaefer is a presenter from WNYC, incapable of speaking with elegance, indeed even incapable of completing a thought without umming his way through. Radio must be poorer for his presence. As hinted here, composers should be forced into introducing their works under no circumstance: The spectacle is painful.

The evening began with a reworking of part of the Organ Symphony by Copland, insubstantial yet clever, the language showing traces of what would become associated with him and, by extension, American music. Blaming him is easy, but the piece was brief and innocuous. At least bombast was absent.

Sánchez-Gutiérrez counts as an American by his education and residence. His piece, in movements of four mins., three, three and six (!), contained the strongest music of the night. He revealed a knack for surprises and, alas, for extraneous use of percussion. When he kept the cymbals and tam-tams at bay, he crafted an orchestration of transparency against a solo part of extremes and guile. The final movement, Machine with Roller Chain, endured for too long, leaving the piece in a sad state; the scherzo that preceded it, Machine with Messiaen, was replete with fancy, continuing the momentum from the opening movements, Machine with Whiskers and Dream Bolero.

A concerto of its time represented Mamlok, the multiphonics that once were alluring now seeming devoid of any novelty, captured in the 1970s and resurrected in aspic in 2012. Lest one be unsure of the date, yes, she included much writing for harp and xylophone alike. Among modern oboe concerti, the three by Bruno Maderna remain unsurpassed.

Jalbert belongs to the mainstream of current trends in the USA, writing quasi-tonal music of faux mysticism. His piece was an exercise in slowness and vapidity, in an arch form, with occasional chromaticism and with the full orchestra reserved for its middle section, the cliché of greater speed equated with the cliché of more noise.

The concerto of a sort by Cheung suffered from the lack of a clear direction and from clutter in the scoring. One wonders if packing scores with notes is a metaphor for a society of consumption without end. A few moments were salient, when the figures of the soloist were echoed in close proximity by the ensemble. The soloist retreated to the rear of the hall for the second half, a move that added nil to the experience in the cramped confines of this theatre. If rays of brilliance shone, clouds of opacity prevailed.

Back to the Baroque and Bruckner now.