newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble ended their season of guest curators with “Regenerations” last Saturday night. Composer James Mobberley, a professor at UMKC’s Conservatory, programmed this concert with “compositional lineage” in mind. In addition to one of his own, Mobberley selected works by his teachers and their influences as a look back, and a work by a former student as a look towards the future. The music heard was clearly reflective of connections between teacher and student.
Violinist Anthony DeMarco and pianist Robert Pherigo began the program with Charles Ives’ Violin Sonata no. 4 (“Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting”). The work’s multiple simultaneous key signatures and unpredictable rhythms challenged the performers, with a few out-of-tune pitches in the violin in the first movement (this was remedied later, though) and slight rhythmic struggle in the piano in the second movement. However DeMarco and Pherigo were confident and emotive throughout and especially sensitive during the second movement’s “Jesus Loves Me” theme.
Edgard Varèse’s flute solo Density 21.5 was the least memorable piece of the evening. Lyra Pherigo played in tune with expressive body language and deftly switched between calm and intense moods, but the performance lacked the wide range of dynamics necessary to keep this short composition interesting.
Oh, Friends! by Roger Hannay served as a nice contrast to the rest of the concert’s works. While not necessarily the most compelling music, the piece is pleasant in its simplicity and consonance. Unfortunately Oh, Friends! was fraught with balance issues. The instruments had similar lines throughout yet only the violin was individually conspicuous; it was unclear whether or not other lines were meant to come to the forefront.
DeMarco and Robert Pherigo returned for “Love Poem” from Donald Erb’s Three Poems for Violin and Piano. Displaying similarly high energy as in their first duet tonight, DeMarco and Pherigo deeply embodied this work’s intense atmosphere and were very well in sync with each other. DeMarco was impressive in his treatment of dynamic swells, executing large leaps, particularly the phrases with double-stopped moving lines.
Michael McFerron’s Torrid Mix for piano and electronic playback was a highlight of the program. Robert Pherigo has an appealing stage presence and he stands out as one of newEar’s star players. He was animated, gestural, and equally sensitive and forceful in his performance of Torrid Mix. The electronic opening features a blend of mysterious whispers and manipulated pitches and drones, followed by a section of driving, accented rhythms, and Pherigo matched his piano playing to the electronic part in each section with accuracy and expertise. The interplay between the electronic and piano parts was affective and appropriate.
The music resumed after intermission with the presentation of newEar’s first composition competition winner from the professional division, Lansing McLoskey’s Requiem v. 2.001 (the winner of the student division will be performed next season). Requiem v. 2.001‘s first and third movements were rhythmically and melodically similar and challenging, and it seemed difficult for the ensemble to lock in completely during these sections. The winding, rambling lines suffered with some intonation and balance issues as well. The second movement was stronger, however, and began with a very soft and very high clarinet entrance that was impeccably controlled by Tom Aber. Violinist Chun-Chien Chuang played her interlude (“Trope [virus]”) with vigorous fervor, despite the totally unnecessary full-volume random single snare drum hit during her solo.
The final work of the evening, Mobberley’s Two Studies in Perpetual Motion revealed the links between the preceding pieces (with the exception of McLoskey’s). The dark first movement, “On Thin Ice” featured unexpected accents, complicated mixed meters, fantastic tension build-up, and strong climax points which the ensemble played with assurance and energy. Conductor Lee Hartman maintained the groove even during moments of silence. While differing in mood, “On Thin Ice” and “Cyclescape”, the light and bubbly second movement, share rhythmic characteristics that bond them, creating a delightful complimentary contrast. The ensemble experienced some moments of diminished energy in “Cyclescape,” perhaps because they seemed intensely focused on the less lyrical, more rhythmic spots in the work.
I hope that newEar invites more guest composers to curate concerts next season, as these are the most enjoyable and cohesive of any programs I have heard from the ensemble in the past few years. The performers and listeners are both challenged, and it is wonderful to gain some insight to a specific composer’s viewpoint and aesthetic.
newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble
Saturday, May 1, 2010
All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church
4501 Walnut, Kansas City, MO
Top photo: James Mobberley