Clive on Classical
Blowing the lid off the Downtown classical scene
By Michael Clive
What music critics do for a living rarely resembles real journalism, but Ive just received news that bears on national security that is, the job security of composers of American nationality while also bringing to light an upcoming classical event of compelling local interest. Your concert-going future could hang in the balance.
First, according to a confidential source linked to highly placed executives in the administration of the American Composers Orchestra, the ACO is negotiating a possible deal to perform in lower Manhattan next season. So far I have resisted all pressure to reveal my source, or the Downtown auditorium, or the number of dates the ACO may perform there. But if the ACOs strong season-ender at Carnegie Hall is any indication, you will be glad to have them Downtown.
It is difficult indeed to imagine how anything about last Wednesday nights concert could have gone better. The four works on the program offered two world premieres and two New York premieres including a recently commissioned, lushly sensuous song cycle. It proved a sumptuous showcase for the voice of Deborah Voigt, operas reigning dramatic soprano.
Not all of Miss Voigts opera fans know she is a superb recitalist. Her voice is big yet not thick, so it never obscures the words she sings. It soars, yet clings to a line. Creating the eight-song cycle Erotic Spirits for this instrument must surely have been a dream commission for Stephen Paulus, an acknowledged master of vocal writing whose catalog includes 200 choral works and nine operas. Be assured that when Paulus depicts 4th-century poet Tzu Yehs line Bright moonlight shines through the trees, the orchestra shimmers; when
Voigt sings Sapphos lines Love offers me / This brilliant sun, her voice blooms into radiance.
The concert opened with an engaging musical dare: Brian Currents experimental Symphonies in Slanted Time. In playing new music, instrumentalists often spend more time following their scores than watching the conductor, but Current allowed no such luxury. His rubbery tempos constantly accelerate and decelerate, requiring close attention to the conductors cues. They plunge the listener into a world that seems to teeter and roll the aural equivalent of a funhouse mirror. Music may never have sounded quite so intoxicating.
Equally fresh and offbeat, Derek Bermels Elixir marked the beginning his three-year tenure as ACOs composer-in-residence. Bermel is a musician of almost incredible breadth and productivity a virtuoso clarinetist and apparent stylistic packrat who remembers and incubates everything he hears. While Elixir is informed by the shimmering spectral music that flourished in France in the 1970s, it also sounds distinctively American and decidedly maritime, with shore sounds and a constant rocking that outdoes Debussys En Bateau in its motility.
While youre waiting for the ACO to announce its Downtown plans, mark your calendar for a concert date at St. Marks in the Bowery on Sunday, May 14 at 3 pm. Thats when the one-woman East Village musical production company Mimi Stern-Wolfe will present MUS-Ecology, a wide-ranging program including nature-themed songs by Schubert, B. Lazarus and Richard Hoyt performed by tenor K. Alakulppi and flutist Andrew Bolotowsky and, of course, Stern-Wolfe at the piano. The program also includes Peter Maxwell Daviess fascinating semi-staged Yellow Cake Revue, a cycle exploring the ecological and cultural consequences of uranium mining in the formerly pristine Orkney Islands, with tenor/actor Michael Schilke; and Laura Wolfe, an accomplished singer-songwriter who happens to be Stern-Wolfes daughter, with Dave Eggar on cello and bass. For further information or reservations, contact Downtown Music Productions at 212-477-1594, or www.downtownmusicproductions.org. St. Marks in the Bowery is at 10th Street and Second Avenue; suggested donation for the performance is $10 to $15.