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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.
elliot_carter.jpgA 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, randy.gifwho 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

Verge_LC_11Dec2008_StAntosca-277x426.jpg 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. Verge_LC_11Dec2008_LinaLura_kairos-600x398.jpg















WRITING IN THE WIND

Verge_LC_11Dec2008_Carole_Scrivo-398x600.jpgNext on the program were three separate compositions by Carter: "Scrivo in Vento for solo flute" played by Carole Bean, Verge_LC_11Dec2008_Warner_EightPieces-398x600.jpgtwo 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.

Verge_LC_11Dec2008_LinaLura_Tower-398x600.jpgShatin'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.

RANDY'S WAKE

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.

jennylin_med.jpg















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. jennyalex.jpgThe 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.

Emerald Run (1990) by Michael Henderson, played by played by Jennifer Choi on violin. This piece began in almost a whisper and then progressed in volume with double stops.

Thracian Sketches (2003) by Derek Bermel, played by Bermel on clarinet. Bermel emerged from the darkened auditorium and progressed to the stage while he played. The piece sounded like a snake charmer riffing.

Try to Believe (2008) by Randall Woolf, played by Jennifer Choi on violin with UMBC students of Eric Dyer working with film projection. This work was a kaleidoscope of images that put the lush jazzy music in the background.

SchiZm (1994) by Derek Bermel, played by Bermel on clarinet and Ruth Rose on piano. The Dresser found this piece to be an engaging mix of texture and tempi that ends with tango.

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8 Ball (1986) by Randy Hostetler, played by Jenny Lin on piano with 8 ball.
This is a performance piece to see. The pianist, regulated by a metronome, played the keys with her elbows, the sides of her hands, and juggled an 8 ball.

Five V+W Songs (1928-1938) by Jaroslav Jezek with arrangement and singing translation by Maurice Saylor sung by tenor Ryan Murphy and played by Ben Bokor, alto sax; Ben Redwine, clarinet and tenor sax; Davy DeArmond, trumpet; Joel Borrelli-Boudreau, trombone; Blair Goins, tuba; Tony Asero, percussion; Jeffery Newberger, violin; and J. J. Wright, piano. jezeksongs.jpgAll sorts of zany things go on in the playing of this five-part work. Most memorable was in Part I "Life is Chance," the violin was held like it was a ukulele and plucked. In Part II "A Ghost is Haunting the House, the music has roaring Twenties sound complete with wood block and whistle accents. Part 4 "Tragedy of the Water Nix" and Part 5 "It's Clothes that Make the Man" have whimsical touches. The Dresser thinks Jezek's jazzy piece makes a party. The Dresser wanted to dance in the aisle.

COMING TO IN THE AFTERLIFE

The Dresser feels that these two concerts married with her reading of John Adams's memoir Hallelujah Junction has opened a large door into the world of experimental and electronic music. In fact, she thinks these experiences have an afterlife in the Dresser's tool kit of how to process what's new in the landscape of classical music. Here's Kevin Prufer's take on what comes after. The Dresser thinks the poem, besides drawing on the themes of time and wind, captures how artists, struggling with what is experimental and "on the edge," fare.

THE AFTERLIFE

Here are boys, still weak. When they speak

......................................................................... snow falls from their lips.

Pale of hand and cheek, the motors that whirred in their chests

have failed.
+
Their new city--buildings like a scrim

.............................................................. a god unfurled for them

so it waves in the wind.
+
Lovely, strange, and chill.

The boys are laughing weakly in the street
+
so the snowbanks build and stir.

.........................................................It is a city of lost children,

of failures: the weak-hearted, pigeon-toed, transparent lispers,
the recently dead who have no name for it, 
 ........................................................................ or do not care
+
to name it. An empty time they had, coming here--
..................................................................................... a long ride

on a quiet train, and now, on the moonlit avenue,

they talk among themselves.

.................................................. A boredom, one says, over the rails.
Someone nods. I was thinking of the good things, candy,
when at last the coughing stopped.


+
For my part--I have grown
............................................... accustomed,
My window that overlooks more buildings and the bay,
.......................................................................................... the voices

and the endless snow. Like anyone, of course,
+
I expected a better landscape--a warmer breeze,
................................................................................. a breath, a relaxation

of the senses. Cancelled, cancelled. A passage like moving

from one town to another, warmer town,
 .....................................................................but the city is new,

the population pale, unsteady. When at last they covered me up--

the coughing stopped.


........................................ I counted on a god and, thus,
+
judgment--a smile from above, a You have passed or not. A hand

from the clouds to lift me up,

................................................... a gentle voice to call me

blameless.

................. The boys in the street below

search for their wallets. The city squats on the bay, and I,

who am one of them,

................................... smile at the squalls from their mouths
+
as, from far away, another train pulls into the station,

sighs, and, with a shudder,

............................................... stops.

Kevin Prufer
from National Anthem

Copyright © 2008 Kevin Prufer

Photos from the Elliott Carter Concert by David Jones

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Comments (4)

Thanks for your nicely written review page! But what's actually the
thing that annoys you with Kalimba?

In order to soothe your temper, maybe this one can help:

http://www.essl.at/works/listen-thing.html

Warm regards,
--
Dr. Karlheinz Essl
composer/performer
http://www.essl.at
http://myspace.com/karlheinzessl

The Dresser:

The Dresser is pleased to engage in conversation with the creating artist whose work she has experienced.

In the case of "Kalimba," as she recalls there was some expectation set for the magic of toy piano in the hands of an excellent pianst like Jenny Lin. What that expectation was as best remembered at this point in time goes to something like resolution. The repetition of scales and meter some how fed into what annoyed the Dresser. Still she found the piece fascinating.

And yes, that url to the 4-part music box cannon was delightful!!

I want to know more about your work and others should too.

Ellen Rappaport:

I have enjoyed reading your columns so much. I confess that I am really learning about many aspects of music that I had never heard about before. I love the edge to your writing. It keeps this reader very connected.

seth Wolitz:

The Lin performance of Hostetler's piece raises the issue of how much is the performance played against the music itself. The time element is key to the whole work and performance but one could easily listen or see this work without the billiard ball despite the loss perhaps of the clicking sound it provides running along the keys which adds I do admit another sonority but also distracts. I sense this piece like Cowell's Aeolian Harp piece will only be a curiosity, a final encore piece for its visuals and virtuosity. It arrests the receptor and one is not placed on a forward moving vision.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 20, 2008 7:03 AM.

The previous post in this blog was The Mysteries of Grey Gardens.

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