Snapshots – Blur: Shulamit Ran

Dan Albertson

[January 2013.]

[Thank you, Barbara Jurgens.]


Shulamit RAN: Under the Sun’s Gaze (Concerto da Camera III) (2003–04). Tim Munro (fl, a-fl), Mary Stolper (fl, picc), Michael Maccaferri & Daniel Won (clar, b-clar), Jeremy Ruthrauff (s-sax), Yvonne Lam (vln), Nicholas Photinos (vlc), Lisa Kaplan (pno), Doug Perkins (perc), Cliff Colnot (cond.). Logan Center for the Arts, Chicago, IL, Jan. 12, 2013.

Shulamit Ran (b. 1949) is typical of the current morass of American music. She is a composer of general tonality, or perhaps a general composer of tonality. She aims at lyricism, but lacks the melodic gift to make her music special; she also lacks the sense of adventure to move beyond the quotidian. The result is a music left unconsummated.

In her note for Under the Sun’s Gaze (Concerto da Camera III), the composer writes of an arch form and of a “six-note descending line,” which becomes the principal fount of melody in the piece. Alas, though the six-note line is indeed obvious, it fails to develop any further and is often obscured by part-writing that is unnecessarily busy and often clumsy in both piano and percussion, with clichés aplenty. She is a victim of what I dub Saariaho Syndrome: When in doubt, strike a crotale or hit a tam-tam.

The music fails to take advantage of the special opportunities afforded by having pairs of flutes and clarinets in a chamber context, with the exception of a few moments for bass clarinets in conversation, almost resembling folk music, quickly yielding to other trivialities in the course of its 19 minutes. The saxophonist appeared on stage only after eight minutes with “plaintive” music, per the composer. I found it dull and meandering, the work in microcosm.

This piece shows the failure of a creative mind, not least because of its inability to succeed in its stated aims and its unwillingness to maintain focus.


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