by Timothy Robson
“Boulez the Advocate and Mentor,” the last of five concerts at CIM honoring the late Pierre Boulez, took place on October 30 at Mixon Hall. Appropriately, the CIM New Music Ensemble, directed by Keith Fitch, was joined by soloist Joshua Smith (CIM faculty member and Cleveland Orchestra principal flute), who performed many times under Boulez’s direction.
The program included two works by Augusta Read Thomas (left, with Boulez), composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony during Boulez’s tenure as principal guest conductor), music by other composers whose works were championed by Boulez (György Kurtág and Bernard Rands), and two works by Boulez himself. The student ensemble gave committed and involving performances of these challenging works.
As Keith Fitch observed in his program notes for Boulez’s Dérive I (1984, rev. 1986), the composer was constantly returning to his previous works, revising them and extracting musical elements from them as the basis for new works. Dérive I, for flute (Audrey Whartenby), clarinet (Zachary West), violin (James Thompson), cello (Joseph Teeter), vibraphone (Taylor Newman), and piano (Taylor Flowers) — with Gaddiel Dambrowner conducting — is based on an earlier work for seven cellos. Dérive I, which lasts about six minutes, has a very slow tempo and harmonic progression. But the “skin” above its harmonic chords is elaborately decorated with trills, grace notes, and short arpeggios moving away from the main notes and returning.
Augusta Read Thomas’s 2007 Dancing Helix Rituals for clarinet (West), violin (Brian Allen), and piano (Luwen Chen) also features ornaments around a tonal center, but in this case the piece is rambunctious — at times jazzy — with nervous energy. An extended solo passage for piano includes brief interjections from violin and clarinet, and later passages show hints of boogie-woogie. One striking, soft chord short-circuits the antics briefly, but then the frenetic activity returns before an abrupt ending.
The titles for the first five movements of György Kurtág’s Hommage à R. Sch., Op. 15d (1990) in some cases took longer to read than the movements themselves. Kurtág’s tribute to Robert Schumann depicts the composer’s multiple personalities — Florestan, Eusebius, and Meister Raro — as well as a character invented by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Kurtág’s scoring for clarinet (West), viola (Andrew Stock), and piano (Su Han Ho) was borrowed from Schumann’s “Fairy Tales.” The work is austerely lyrical, several of its movements lasting only a few seconds. The sixth and final movement is more substantial and carries the surreal description “Meister Raro encounters Guillaume de Machaut.” Its soft, slow phrases require the viola and clarinet to sustain very soft notes for long periods of time. It ends with the clarinet player beating just one stroke on a bass drum. Hommage à R. Sch. is a strange, beautiful work.
Bernard Rands’s …sans voix parmi le voix… (1995) was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Association for a concert celebrating Pierre Boulez’s 70th birthday. Scored for flute (Whartenby), viola (Michael Jones), and harp (Grace Roepke), this was perhaps the most accessible work on the program, opening with intervals of open fifths on the harp, repeated, added to, and elaborated upon in a more or less steady pulse while the viola plays an ecstatic melody. The flute has a brief cadenza, then the harp figurations continue. A short, tonal passage precedes an ethereal ending in the harp. The work is graceful and elegant, as was the performance.
Boulez’s Mémoriale (“…explosante-fixe…” original) (1985), conducted by Pablo Devigo, is scored for a chamber orchestra of strings, flute, and horns, and featured Joshua Smith as flute soloist. In a scant five minutes, Boulez packs a huge amount of music into a small space. The solo flute plays fleeting, virtuosic musical gestures while the ensemble is muted, dreamlike, and distant.
The program closed with its most recent work, Augusta Read Thomas’s Klee Musings (2016) for violin (Brian Allen), Kia Kanda (cello), and April Sun (piano). Each of the three short movements was inspired by artworks by Paul Klee. The first and third movements are fast and quirky, with quick harmonic progressions. As in the other Thomas work on the program, jazz — this time bebop — makes an appearance. The second movement is inspired more by the impressionist composers Ravel and Debussy, as well as jazz pianist Bill Evans.
The breadth of style on this final Boulez Legacy concert was a tribute to the range of composers whose works Boulez performed and promoted. It was a fascinating survey, well-performed.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com November 1, 2016.
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