The Righteous Girls & Their Composers
If you were a current-day working composer of classical music and the young but technically accomplished piano-flute duo known as the Righteous Girls approached you for a commission--that you would write a composition for them, the Dresser would say leap at the opportunity.
On August 8, 2015, at Washington, DC's Atlas Performing Arts Center, the Dresser heard flautist Gina Izzo and pianist Erika Dohi play ten pieces, all by different composers, from their award-winning debut album Gathering Blue.
The Girls, dressed in lacy black tights with black camisole-like tops, began modestly with David Molk's "Edge," a work with electronics that features a staccato flute sounding like bird Morse Code with bass accents from the piano. With a more pronounced electronic soundscape, "Anzu" by Ambrose Akinmusire (the only California-based composer in an otherwise all New York constituency) floats momentarily into a passage reminiscent of George Gershwin's "Summertime" from the jazz opera Porgy and Bess. Christian Carey's "For Milton" is a tribute to the late contemporary classical composer Milton Babbitt and it offers a furtive romp of serialism with accents of jazz. The Dresser admits that only one hearing of this piece is not enough to appreciate its complexity.
Even with key mashing (several keys depressed into a noisy crash), Randy Woolf's "Nobody Move" was a favorite composition. Dohi was fully engaged with the scale runs, syncopation, boogie woogie intensities, and the changing tempos. At the end of this piece, Izzo makes her flute sound like we have entered a pinball arcade. The Righteous Girls know how to dramatize as well as rise to the challenge of such experimental music.
For Jonathan Ragonese's "non-poem 1" Izzo plays an alto flute. The sound is rich and sultry with slow piano accents. Andy Akiho's "KARakurENAI" has a shimmering and haunting sound partially created by the pianist manipulating the piano harp. It's a piece with a plucking sound that comes across sounding like restorative rain.
Mike Perdue's "Entr'acte" relies heavily on dubbing because it is for two flutes and two prepared pianos and all the parts are executed by Izzo and Dohi. The Dresser thought this piece would make good accompaniment for a sci-fi film.
"Accumulated Gestures" by Vijay Iyer is a complex soundscape that was apparently so emotionally intense for the pianist that Dohi wrapped her left leg around her pedal-playing right as if to anchor herself to the piano bench. The flautist meanwhile provided percussive sounds with heavily bursts of breath. Lots of drama in this piece.
The final piece of this just-over-one-hour concert was Pascal Le Boeuf's "Girls." This is another prepared piano piece but also where the pianist throws her whole body into the keys using a fist, elbow, or forearm to create sound. It's jazzed and full of thunder.
Like the sleek agile big cat of Vladimir Levchev's poem "Leopard," the Righteous Girls are a rare sighting in a sea of standard chamber music concerts. They deserve bigger audiences than the 20 or so attending their Atlas performance. So the Dresser who knows that Izzo and Dohi have a breakneck concert schedule advises that they network vigorously with the power brokers of new music so that they won't be consumed by an unknowing vacuum.
This poem is
a leopard skin.
It could be
of an aristocratic house,
of a medicine-man,
of the moths in a museum.
This poem is the memory
of a rare jungle specimen.
Burned by hungry farmers,
the jungle disappears
day after day.
from Black Book of the Endangered Species
Black Book of the Endangered Species copyright © 1999 Vladimir Levchev