Mason Bates’s KC Jukebox presents four minamalist multi-media works by Cooper, Andres, Balter and Clyne

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)

“New Horizons: Music Without Borders”: Congressional Chorus presents Tin’s “Calling All Dawns”

The Congressional Chorus of Washington DC presented an ambitious concert Saturday night, June 3, 2017, a week before Gay Pride, “New Horizons: Music Without Borders” at the First City Christian Church at Thomas Circle in Washington, DC.

I’ll cut to the chase. The featured work for the program occurred after the intermission, the choral symphony “Calling All Dawns: A Song Cycle About Life”, about 65 minutes (by my phone), composed by Chinese-American Christopher Tin, for mixed chorus, soloists and chamber orchestra.

The work is in 12 movements, each in a different language.  The first five movements make up “Day”, the next three “Night”, and last four are “Dawn”.

While some of the work has simplified and repetitive harmonies that we associate with some oriental music, by and large the work is inspired by the choral symphonies from the world of German and sometimes Russian post-Romanticism, by Mahler, Schoenberg (“Gurre-Lieder”) and even Shostakovich. The work comes across as a hybrid of oratorio and traditional symphony.

The underlying tonality seemed to be G Major.  Each of the three sections seems to have interrelated themes.  In the first section, the biggest climaxes occur in the last song, “Rassemblons-Nous” (“Let Us Gather”) in French, exploring resistance leading to revolution (as it happened in France).   The second section begins with quiet Latin settings from the Requiem, before moving to a Gaelic poem “To Cry”, followed by a Polish Catholic hymn “to the Holy Trinity”.  These two movements have the most interesting writing in the work, rather like a slow movement, with a lot of instrumental passages having some chromaticism and polytonality, perhaps resembling Shostakovich. The Catholic Hymn has a theme somewhat reminiscent of the “Applause Theme” in the finale of my own Sonata 3; in my setting, it starts in F# Major and tries to and does return to C Major; here the theme circulates in stanzas, broken apart into little counterpoints, hovering around C Major.  There is lavish beauty, and yet this sounds like a hymn you can’t sing in church in any straightforward matter.

The Finale, with the separate songs arranged to simulate a rondo-like structure, builds to its finale climax at the end of last song in Maori, with one huge G Major chord, and then four notes almost a cappella, in one solo voice, as an afterthought.

The twelve languages (which would please YouTube’s “Paul”), are Swahili, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, French, Latin, Irish Gaelic, Polish, Hebrew, Farsi, Sanskrit, and Maori.

The concert would conclude with the Combined Choruses in Greg Gilpin’s “Rise Above the Walls” (in defiance of Donald Trump?)

The first half comprised nine pieces: “The Whole World Is Singing” (Tom Anderson), “Inscription of Hope” (Randall Stroope), “La Musica” (Jay Althouse), “Song of Peace” adapted from Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia” by Gary Fry; “An Afro-Celtic Diddle” by Michael Coolen; “Give Love a Chance” by Grayson Warren Brown, “Sililiza” (“Hear Me”), by Jim Papoulis, “Jai Ho!” by A. R. Rahman from the 2008 film “Slumdog Millionaire” (best song Oscar), and “Al Shlosha D’varim”by Allan R. Naplan.

Performers included the Congressional Chorus Chamber Ensemble, the NorthEast Senior Singers, and the American Youth Chorus (ages 8 through high school).

This Sunday morning, the Call to Worship on Pentecost Sunday at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC was in several languages: Spanish, Portguguese, Tagalog, Yoruba, German, and American Sign Language.

Composer website for “Calling All Dawns”.

(Posted: Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)