Friday night December 8, 2017 The Kennedy Center put on a program called “Ear/Eye” in what it calls Mason Bates’s KC Jukebox, the renovated Terrace Theater. Well, it’s Mason, not Norman (so Freddie Highmore wasn’t there) and the KC stands for Kennedy Center, not Kansas City, although that would make sense. Actually. Mason Bates is a composer from Richmond, a little older than The Good Doctor.
Christopher Rountree conducted all four pieces.
The first work was “Ripple the Sky” by Jacob Cooper (USA), 16 min, for “processed string octet with voice and video projection”. The Mivos Quarter, along with Isabel Hagen (viola), Jeanann Dara (viola), Pala Garcia (violin) and John Popham (cello) and Thomas McCargar with a wordless voice, performed. The octet was set up in a row on the front of the stage (it could be rolled off), and it tended to hide the video.
But the video was interesting. It showed a man mostly alone in a desert (with some stripmines) on what looked like an alien planet. Cooper, in introducing the work with a video, mentioned the importance of Robert Schumann with his miniature pieces and personal life issues.
The remaining works were for smaller ensembles with percussion.
The second work was “Checkered Shade” (14 min) by Timo Andres (USA). The performers were Laura Kaufman, violin; Kathy Mulcahy, clarinet; Elise Blake, violin; Sean Neidlinger, cello; Lisa Emenheiser, piano; Bill Richards, percussion. The screen showed evolving geometric designs, seeming to be built on fractals (I thought of mathematicians like Jack Andraka and AOPS’s Deven Ware). Well, all living things are built on fractals. The piece seemed to comprise two movements: a slightly Prokofiev-like first section, and a slower chorale, with a theme (starting with a rising fourth interval) that sounded familiar. But yet like all the pieces on this program, the music seems to move in chunks rather than real development. The chorale seemed to form a ground bass for a passacagla-like presentation. The ending is on a fortissimo note that dies away (rather like Berg’s Chamber Concerto).
The third work was “Codex Seraphinianus” by Marcos Balter (Brazil), “11 Short Movements with projected images of Italian drawings”. The musical aphorisms were chatty and dissonant, more radical than the first two works. The pictures depicted bizarre concoctions of life forms, like a man covered with green grass rather than body hair. Laura Kaufman played flute, Charlie Young the saxophone (like Bill Clinton), Tiffery Richardson the viola, and Tia Wortham the bassoon.
The fourth was “Steelworks” by Anna Clyne (UK), were the screen showed images (four at a time) of a steelworks in Brooklyn from the 1920s. Kaufman played the flute and piccolo, Kathy Mulcahy the bass clarinet, and Bill Richards the marimba. I was reminded a bit of Mosolov’s “Iron Foundry”, as this work seemed to bring back the reality of proletarian life in manufacturing.
All four works expressed a certain minimalism in content, along with deftness in creating multiple media experiences (similar to ones I have seen at the Poisson Rouge in NYC, and even the 930 Club in DC (right next to Town Danceboutique). Composers today seem attracted to this sort of content in securing commissions. The old idea of large post-romantic exposition and development seems to have been forgotten, maybe out of economic necessity.
(Posted: Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 1 PM EST)