May 3, 2007

Tempest Fantasy

As promised, here is the second in a series of posts I'll be making this week. I bet you didn't think I'd really post again so soon ....

Well, as some of you may or may not remember, at some point I mentioned briefly that I was loosely affiliated with conTempo again this semester. I hadn't signed up for credit, but at the end of January, the professor called me up and begged me to be in it again (he couldn't find another violinist). So I agreed. I like playing new music, and he had promised an exciting repertoire. It turned out that things didn't exactly go as planned this semester, because the professor had some looming personal crisis that took up a lot of his outside attention; however, we did manage to pull together a concert, which we performed Monday night.

The interesting thing about conTempo this semester was the wide variety of people who signed up. There was the usual clarinet, violin, cello and flute, but there was also an accordian player and composer, a percussionist, and a tenor. Plus the professor, who plays both viola and piano and is a composer himself. At any rate, it was an interesting experience trying to find music for this group. The accordian player actually composed a piece for us called "as-i-de-step", which was based on the structural principals of the game sudoku. It was interesting to play because the percussion player kept time on a suspended cymbal, and the entire piece consisted of playing a set of musical systems forwards and backwards.

Another composer (from the composition department) wrote a piece for accordian and percussion, which was performed as well. The interesting thing about this piece was the gradations and types of sound that he required. For example, the percussion player had to cut open an empty soda can (part of the piece, mind you) and then scratch the two halves around on a gong. This of course, produced a very unique noise.

Then there was a movement from Tempest Fantasy, by Paul Moravec, a Pulitzer prize-winning piece for clarinet, violin, cello and piano which is based on Shakespeare's Tempest. It's actually a very pretty movement, and it's a pity that we were only able to perform the one movement.
The finale of the program though, was Vox Ballanae (Song of the Whales), by George Crumb. This piece is for piano with some effects, amplified flute, and cello.
The piece is indescribably amazing. For one thing, all three players are instructed to wear half-masks, in order to make the performers seem less human. The first movement is mostly the flute player singing into her flute, into the mic. But there are also a lot of piano and cello effects. At various points, the pianist dampens the piano strings with his hand while striking keys, and at other times plucks strings. There were also sections involving a chisel and a piece of string, but I don't know much more than that. The cello part had lots and lots of harmonics, and probably more fun things I'm forgetting.
And then there was this spot in the middle of the piece where the flute player whistled in this really high register, and then the pianist mimicked it a little later. Sitting sidewise in the audience, I could not figure out where the noise was coming from. At the time I thought it was a tape, because of course the concert was taped and there was a guy sitting at the soundboard... but afterwards, I found out it was actually the players themselves. Verry impressive.
The Crumb was very well-received, and now Ihave one less thing to worry about the rest of the semester.

1 comment:

Ebony said...

Good words.