February 19 - Ensuite

Harriet in Reno visiting daughter, son-in-law, so left to my own devices most of the day. Prepared the full orchestra version of Worksong from Mice Suite No. 1 and will record tonight. Also finalized and printed new orchestrations of Helena Suite: I. Beautiful Women and San Rafael Hub: I. Fresno.

Wrote up the Herb Bielawa Friday show, below -- version appearing Tuesday at sfcv.org.

Sounds Classic

Composers now have the option of having their music featured on the popular
"Myspace" site, by establishing a free "Band" web destination (a rock locution
evidently good for individuals as well). As part of the set-up procedure,
artists must decide how to characterize their music -- "Classical" / "Classical -
Opera" / "Minimalist" are some of the possibilities. "Contemporary
Classical" and "New Music," locutions used by many current composers, are not part of
the option scheme thus far.

Sounds New, a fine East Bay Pierrot ensemble led by Herb Bielawa, obviously
subscribes to the latter term, but the former might even serve as a better,
although, admittedly, less catchy characterization. "Sounds Contemporary
Classical" is what this expert band of musicians offers: a classic, respectful
approach to recent music of an academic bent. True to the Arnold Schoenberg
tradition, instrumentation varied throughout the evening and vocal music was a
welcome part of the mix.

The three sung pieces, leading off with Greg Steinke's "To Get to Fresno,"
featured soprano delicacies from Ann Carol Dudley and were all
forest-from-the-trees detailed settings of texts that favored recitative-like word-painting
over melody and through-line. The long poem, by Lawson Fusao Inada, evidently
alludes to internment of individuals of Japanese heritage in American camps
during World War II.

James Jenson buys into another contemporary-classical tradition -- that of a
capella clarinet writing, so consummately established by Igor Stravinsky in
his 1919 "Three Pieces," with an identically-named work in 1997 -- and he is up
to the challenge of forward movement. While there is somehow an inevitable
lonely, sadness to unaccompanied monophonic presentations, the third movement in
particular danced off to delightful parts unknown under the dexterous fingers
of Richard Matthias.

Relatedly, Michael Golden's "Bidder to Better" stayed in the mind due to its
appealing animated interplay between violinist Brooke Aird and pianist Elinor
Armer, a lithe pair who made the music fly. Both contributed contrapuntal
alliterative (almost onomatopoeiac) whimsy in their rapid recitations of
fragments of the title and verse "You sold your treasure to the lowest bidder. Better
win it back."

Winning as well was the entire ensemble, including shining and velvety
contributions from flutist Deborah Schmidt and cellist Cathy Allen, in the only
fully-scored work, "Summer Solstice." The poem was that of Yiorgos Seferis, and
this serious work found composer John Thow in his usual element, with a strong
interest in color and line, in untouchable new-music-ensemble form.
Founder-Conductor (and pianist at other points in the recital) Herbert Bielawa carried
off all the proceedings admirably.
More kick-up-your-heels was Howard Hersh's "Dancing at the Pink House,"
referencing clarinetist Patricia Shands's unusual domicile in Stockton, here
dynamically performed by Mathias and Bielawa. By contrast, the considerably more
serious "Hibakusha," by Aaron Alon, offered a capella soloist Schmidt an
opportunity to perform beautiful memorial to survivors of the atomic blasts at
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Bielawa's "Sloppy Floppy Copy" provided a witty, upbeat disconnect, as its
title would suggest, in a three-musician free-for-all setting of a computer
clone derived from Dr. Seuss's "Fox in Sox." Solidly in the sprit of Leonard
Bernstein's recipe songs and other unexpected text-selections, this was a
delightful work that fulfilled the composer's intention to avoid rhythmic
"squareness," despite the fact that periodicity did seem part of point of the parody.

The most soaring contribution to the evenings excursion were the "Canopy
Dances" of Michael Djupstrom -- avian musical onomatopoeias that took flight in a
frenzy of fevered lines, notwithstanding a certain rhythmic evening coolness
underlying this essay of a night in the tropical rainforests. The scoring for
the non-keyboard elements of the Pierrot ensemble was brilliant, and each
instrumentalist was able to take soaring solo turns as well as demonstrating crack
ensemble interlockings that proved that these musicians were indeed together
as related birds of a feather.

Foxy playing that knocked the socks.