Celebrating Elliott Carter and Randy Hostetler
This past fall, the Dresser entered the Living Room of Randy Hostetler where a tenth anniversary concert of experimental music played. Not without regret the event receded into the past before the Dresser could apply her fingers to her keyboard to make note of the October 13, 2008, program held at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. (Yes, this is the school where President-elect Obama is sending his daughters.) What has brought The Randy Hostetler Living Room Music Project concert back into view was a Library of Congress concert in tribute to Elliott Carter on the occasion of his 100th birthday December 11, 2008.
A number of people who either participated in or attended the Living Room concert also were seen at the Carter tribute concert reminding the Dresser of the earlier concert. Furthermore, one does not have to search very hard to see that concerts including the music of the wunderkind Randy Hostetler, who died at the age of 32, invariably showcase the music by the esteemed centenarian Elliott Carter. After all, experimental classical music commands a small but rarefied audience.
CARTER'S ONE HUNDREDTH
First the Dresser will talk about the more recent concert which was one of many mounted around the world in honor of Carter. Carter was in New York on his birthday at a tribute concert there. The Library of Congress program was spearheaded by composers Steve Antosca and Judith Shatin both of whom were premiering compositions inspired by Carter's thematic interests in time and wind. The McKim Fund of the Library of Congress commissioned both Antosca's and Shatin's new works. Antosca, as Artistic Director of the accomplished Verge Ensemble (all the musicians who played at the Carter concert were Verge members), was also the concert's co-producer with the Library of Congress.
TIME OUTSIDE OF TIME
Antosca's piece "kairos - time outside of time for violin, harpsichord, and computer" opened the tribute. The Dresser felt transported beyond Earth into space. But since the Dresser just read in John Adams's memoir Hallelujah Junction that there is "no music in outer space because there is no air to transport the vibrations," the Dresser must be influenced by György Ligeti's music in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A space Odyssey. Antosca's composition seems to be about texture and color, but the underpinnings are complex rhythms. Violinist Lina Bahn and harpsichordist Lura Johnson responded brightly to the computerized sounds manipulated by Antosca from the rear of the Coolidge Auditorium.
WRITING IN THE WIND
Next on the program were three separate compositions by Carter: "Scrivo in Vento for solo flute" played by Carole Bean, two movement from Eight Pieces for Four Timpani executed by percussionist William Richards, and "Enchanted Preludes for flute and cello played by Bean and Tobias Warner on cello. Of these three compositions, the Dresser enjoyed best the solo flute number that featured a fluid and seductive melody with odd bursts of tooting. "Scrivo" is based on Francesco Petrarca's (Petrarch in English) lyric sonnet and the Dresser understands the touting to be the wind interrupting the poet's writing.
Shatin's four-movement work Tower of the Eight Winds for violin and piano opened the second half of the program. For the Dresser, this was the pièce de résistance and she would like to hear this again. While Shatin is known for her electronic music, the instrumentation was solely acoustic. The Dresser characterizes the four movements of Tower (all named for specific winds) as follows: "Taku" (a gusty October through March Juneau, Alaska wind): intense, very emotionally engaging; "Barber" (a wind carrying freezing spray): delicate; "Caver" (a gentle breeze of the Hebrides): lyric, especially played by the agile Lina Bahn on violin; and "Williwaw" (a sudden blast of wind originating in the snow and ice covered mountains and moving forcefully through the Aleutian Islands and Straits of Magellan): soulful and strong.
The program concluded with work by Carter--two more movements from Eight Pieces for Four Timpani and A Mirror on Which to Dwell for Soprano and Chamber Orchestra. The latter composition is based on six poems by Elizabeth Bishop. The Dresser liked the setting of the fourth poem "Insomnia" and the fifth poem "View of the Capitol from the Library of Congress." What appealed to the Dresser's ear in both of these settings was the musical texture. Particularly appealing in poem 5 was the voice of the clarinet. The Dresser thinks soprano Kathryn Hearden gave a reasonably good performance of particularly difficult music.
By comparison, the Carter tribute seemed conservative in the wake of the Living Room concert where an empty armchair sat on the stage for Randy Hostetler. Here's a quick scan of what was presented with each composition's date of premier, composer, performing musicians and a short comment.
Kalimba (2005) by Karlheinz Essl, played by Jenny Lin on toy piano with CD playback. The Dresser was both fascinated and annoyed with this piece. It was hard to tell where all the sounds were coming from. At first the Dresser wondered if the pianist was playing accompaniment to a recording. Some of the exotic sounds seemed like those from a gamelan ensemble. In one passage, annoying ascending and descending scales seemed like a waterfall. In another passage, the sound produced was like a loudly ticking mantel clock.
Electric blue pantsuit (2007) by Alexandra Gardner, played by Jennifer Choi on violin and Gardner on computer. The Dresser found this piece satisfyingly textured with the violin and computer engaging in conversation that included minimalist riffs.
Short Talks, for Piano and Drum (2008) by Greg Sandow, played by Jenny Lin. Although the Dresser found this piece gimmicky--the pianist plays the keys with one hand while the other taps what looks to be a homemade drum that sits in her lap--the piano line was graceful and the drum accents appealing.