Tuesday, May 16, 2006

PREMIERES://Blowing the lid off the Downtown classical scene

By Michael Clive
From The Villager - Volume 75, Number 51 May 10 - 16 2006

What music critics do for a living rarely resembles real journalism, but I’ve just received news that bears on national security — that is, the job security of composers of American nationality — while also bringing to light an upcoming classical event of compelling local interest. Your concert-going future could hang in the balance.
First, according to a confidential source linked to highly placed executives in the administration of the American Composers Orchestra, the ACO is negotiating a possible deal to perform in lower Manhattan next season. So far I have resisted all pressure to reveal my source, or the Downtown auditorium, or the number of dates the ACO may perform there. But if the ACO’s strong season-ender at Carnegie Hall is any indication, you will be glad to have them Downtown.
It is difficult indeed to imagine how anything about last Wednesday night’s concert could have gone better. The four works on the program offered two world premieres and two New York premieres including a recently commissioned, lushly sensuous song cycle. It proved a sumptuous showcase for the voice of Deborah Voigt, opera’s reigning dramatic soprano.
Not all of Miss Voigt’s opera fans know she is a superb recitalist. Her voice is big yet not thick, so it never obscures the words she sings. It soars, yet clings to a line. Creating the eight-song cycle “Erotic Spirits” for this instrument must surely have been a dream commission for Stephen Paulus, an acknowledged master of vocal writing whose catalog includes 200 choral works and nine operas. Be assured that when Paulus depicts 4th-century poet Tzu Yeh’s line “Bright moonlight shines through the trees,” the orchestra shimmers; when
Voigt sings Sappho’s lines “Love offers me / This brilliant sun,” her voice blooms into radiance.
The concert opened with an engaging musical dare: Brian Current’s experimental “Symphonies in Slanted Time.” In playing new music, instrumentalists often spend more time following their scores than watching the conductor, but Current allowed no such luxury. His rubbery tempos constantly accelerate and decelerate, requiring close attention to the conductor’s cues. They plunge the listener into a world that seems to teeter and roll — the aural equivalent of a funhouse mirror. Music may never have sounded quite so intoxicating.
Equally fresh and offbeat, Derek Bermel’s “Elixir” marked the beginning his three-year tenure as ACO’s composer-in-residence. Bermel is a musician of almost incredible breadth and productivity — a virtuoso clarinetist and apparent stylistic packrat who remembers and incubates everything he hears. While “Elixir” is informed by the shimmering “spectral music” that flourished in France in the 1970s, it also sounds distinctively American and decidedly maritime, with shore sounds and a constant rocking that outdoes Debussy’s “En Bateau” in its motility.
While you’re waiting for the ACO to announce its Downtown plans, mark your calendar for a concert date at St. Marks in the Bowery on Sunday, May 14 at 3 pm. That’s when the one-woman East Village musical production company Mimi Stern-Wolfe will present “MUS-Ecology,” a wide-ranging program including nature-themed songs by Schubert, B. Lazarus and Richard Hoyt performed by tenor K. Alakulppi and flutist Andrew Bolotowsky — and, of course, Stern-Wolfe at the piano. The program also includes Peter Maxwell Davies’s fascinating semi-staged “Yellow Cake Revue,” a cycle exploring the ecological and cultural consequences of uranium mining in the formerly pristine Orkney Islands, with tenor/actor Michael Schilke; and Laura Wolfe, an accomplished singer-songwriter who happens to be Stern-Wolfe’s daughter, with Dave Eggar on cello and bass.

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