Nothing prehistoric about Dinosaur Annex’s showcase for young composers
“I Make Music,” Dinosaur Annex’s 11th annual Young Composers Concert showcased not only the work of emerging composers, but music that captured varied aspects of youth. With a program of five pieces all composed in the last three years, Friday night’s concert at the Longy School of Music’s Pickman Hall was just as much about young works as it was about young composers.
The evening opened with Hush, Phyllis Chen’s intriguing piece for music box, prepared piano, toy piano, and mixing bowls. Chen layers timbres and rhythmic and melodic patterns to create something like a toy gamelan encompassing all the shades of the toy piano’s plinky, metallic sonic color. Percussionist Robert Schulz and pianist Donald Berman performed the piece with a precision that did not dampen any of the music’s delight in its playful conjuring of sounds of childhood.
Chris Rogerson’s Once, a suite for violin and piano, presented a rather old-fashioned sense of lyric melody and emotional contrast within a traditional sequence of slow-fast-slow-fast movements. Berman and violinist Gabriela Diaz employed an expressive but light touch that made the melody soar and the chromatic harmonies bite.
The centerpiece of Dinosaur Annex’s project is a commissioned work to be performed by an ensemble of student and professional musicians. This year’s piece was a five-movement Sextet for strings by Ju Ri Seo.
Seo’s Sextet is a remarkably well-balanced and effective piece that unites many different characters, timbres and techniques while giving both the student and professional musicians opportunities to shine. Particularly enjoyable were the second movement (“G-B-D-E-A”), in which all the players collaborated in rendering the eponymous five pitches with varying colors and in an array of harmonic combinations, and the third section (“Dance Movement”), an accelerating pizzicato dance.
The final piece on the program, Emily Koh’s Synpunkt, for alto flute and piccolo, clarinet and bass clarinet, and percussion, played out like an intense conversation between the players. Flutist Sue-Ellen Tcherepnin and clarinetist Katherine Matasy traded motifs back and forth like clever debaters, while percussionist Schulz edged his way into full participation. Like many conversations, Synpunkt had a tendency to wander. Yet the emergence of interesting timbres, like Tcherepnin’s humming into the flute, and engaging motifs, like Matasy’s lovely solo in the third section, kept the audience’s interest.
The most enchanting moments of the evening came from Nemo Sleeps. This eight-movement piano suite by John Liberatore provided an unexpected evocation of Windsor McCay’s early 20th-century surrealist comic strip, images of which were projected during the piece. Rather than the lush, impressionist and cinematic music a listener might expect as accompaniment to the Belle Epoque adventures of the cherubic Nemo, Liberatore gave us an abstract, pointillistic, and often sparse sonic rendering that digs deeper into McCay’s colorful fantasy world than mere program music could.
In another unexpected move, Liberatore brought the piece to a beautiful climax in the fourth and fifth movements, not with a great outburst, but rather with a relaxed and spare melancholy accompaniment to a panel depicting Nemo pleading with Father Time. This meditative character was intensified in the pianissimo “Snow falls in the Valley of Silence (Nemo holds his breath),” where each note nearly dies before the next is sounded.
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