Concert Review: The New Music Ensemble at Towson University

“Full Color Music”


Celeste Blasé, violin, Jeffery Howard, violin, Jennifer Rende, viola, David Shumway, cello, Lisa Cella, flute, E. Michael Richards, clarinet, Lura Johnson, piano, Barry Dove, vibraphone and percussion. The three large ensemble pieces were conducted by Julien Benichou.

The concert included four pieces of music from four composers written between 1955 and 2004. The first, Circle Dance, composed by Burton Beerman, was performed by the string quartet portion of the ensemble directed by Benichou.

This piece artfully bridged elements of popular contemporary music with more adventurous possibilities. The three movement piece began with reminisces of Appalachia, then a reflective middle section followed by a spirited ending. The composer paints textures like Bartok and Debussy with an American style similar to the works of Edgar Meyer. Under Benichou’s restrained and subtle direction, the quartet painted backdrops that were executed with clarity and precision and brought this work to life with relaxed conviction.

The ensemble regrouped as a sextet to perform Pierre Boulez work from the mid eighties, Dérive I (so named due to the subsequent revision by the composer).

The cacophonous exclamations associated with Boulez' music were well executed by the ensemble. During subtler sections, the ensemble generated a rich mass of sound that gave the illusion that there were more than six performers on the stage. The many crescendos retained this warmth and were prevented from becoming shrill. The ensemble’s awareness and sensibility also allowed the counterpoint of the music, in some ways, the most interesting element, to be heard clearly.

Giacinto Scelsi’s Hyxos from 1955 was performed by Lisa Cella on alto flute and Barry Dove on percussion. Scelsi treated the flute as the main voice and relegated the percussion to the role of accompanist . Barry Dove gave this role life with his thoughtful execution of the part. He easily juggled the necessary sticks and mallets to get the timbres called for from two Indonesian gongs and cowbell. Lisa Cella’s full, rich tone was the star of this piece and she easily brought out Scelsi’s jazz and blues influences through the modal and pentatonic textures. The percussion did get a more prominent role in the third movement, and there was a nice moment when the tuned gong provided a pedal tone for the melodic lines that led to the conclusion. The players executed their parts with authority and navigated the at times awkward piece with ease.

The concert was concluded with Charles Wuorinen’s New York Notes from 1982. The sextet that also performed Derive I was again employed for this piece. As the title implies, the piece attempts to recreate, at times very literally, the sounds and pace of the Big Apple. Similar to Jimi Hendrix’ transformation of sounds in the environment to music, Wourinen’s careful instrumentation transformed this environment from the noise that it can be to a compelling piece of music. The well-traveled twelve-tone techniques from earlier in the century were present in the beginning of the piece, but the composer didn’t cling to those atmospheric devices for long.

The first of three movements ended with a unified texture that carried into the next. The second movement painted a slightly confused calm with an underlying energy that reflected the first's and foreshadowed the third. In fact, this tension was so well developed that even though harmony begins to win out in the end as it battles dissonance, it is clear that complete resolution of the piece has not yet occurred.

The final movement was an explosive release of the energy that had been building up. This fast and intricate movement was guided enthusiastically by Benichou, whose animation matched the intensity of the performance. The piece concluded by reducing the turbulent third movement to a series of gestures punctuated at the end by a single fortissimo strike of the timpani.

The concert was a virtuoso presentation of pieces that are representative of some important and entertaining works out of recent decades. The works chosen reflected the enthusiasm for exploration in the music of the fifties to the bold reflective elements of the following decades and a sampling of the current trends in music of the present.