by Michelle Dulak
Ursula Mamlok began her musical training in Germany and now divides her time between New York (where she teaches at the Manhattan School of Music) and the San Francisco Bay Area. Her Rhapsody was commissioned and premiered by EARPLAY in 1989. It begins with an aggressive motive from the viola, a gentler one from the clarinet, and then a furious interruption from the piano, but once these ideas have been proposed, each is freely echoed by the other two instruments. This active and skittish 'A' section gives way suddenly to an utterly contrasted 'B,' static, reflective, and transparent. The 'A' music returns, in registral inversion and with the instrumental roles assigned to different parts; then 'B' also returns, in a slightly shorter form. What at first appears to be a third 'A' turns into a ferocious, virtuosic explosion in all three parts. But in very little space its energy is spent, and the three instruments slump, exhausted, into the registral depths, where the work ends.
Richard Festinger has taught at the University of California at Berkeley and at Davis, and is now director of the programs in composition and theory at San Francisco State University. His Septet was written for and premiered by EARPLAY in 1987. The addition of a viola to the standard "Pierrot-ensemble-plus-percussion" scoring means that at the core of the work's texture is a miniature "string section" of three players. Building upon this, the composer treats the entire small ensemble as a tiny orchestra, drawing on its surprisingly large coloristic resources. Strings and winds act largely as contrasting timbral choirs, with the piano and especially the percussion underpinning and highlighting the composite sonorities. At times the texture thins down to one or two voices; at others it is almost richer than a complement of seven instruments would seem to make possible. Like the kaleidoscopic variation of sonorities, the flow of ideas is nearly continuous until, near the close of the work, the music turns back on itself, drawn to fleeting reminiscences of past events.
Wayne Peterson has lived since 1960 in San Francisco, teaching at San Francisco State University; he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1992. Labyrinth, for flute, clarinet, violin, and piano, was written for EARPLAY in 1986. The seeds of the piece's evolution are contained in its opening section, but what happens afterwards is a multiply-contingent journey rather than an orderly progression. Alliances form and as quickly dissolve among the instruments. The momentary gesture of an instrument temporarily in the lead can send the entire ensemble in a quite new direction-into a chaos of tiny motivic fragments, for example, or a whiff of jazz, or a thicket of two-note tremolandi. Only at the end of the piece does there emerge a lasting accord-a broad melody in rhythmic and (sometimes) pitch unison, whose momentum propels the music into its unison close.
Elliott Carter's Esprit rude, Esprit doux was composed in 1985 in honor of the sixtieth birthday of Pierre Boulez, and it has been suggested that it is meant as a brief character sketch of the dedicatee. The two "spirits" of the title are exemplified less by the two instruments than by the materials-sometimes quiet and slow, sometimes energetically leaping or scurrying-they take up in their joint caprice. At first complementing each other's gestures, the flute and clarinet increasingly come into competition over the course of the piece, each seemingly seeking to outdo the other's athleticism or to match the other's repose. The close interaction of the two parts, with its suggestion of moment-to-moment action and response, gives the illusion of an unscripted conversation, even a joint improvisation.
Andrew Frank resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and teaches composition at the University of California at Davis. His Points of Departure I, the first of three similarly-titled works, was commissioned and premiered by EARPLAY in 1986. The composer explains: "The title refers to several structurally crucial places in the work where rhythmic or pitch unisons act as catalysts, points of departure so to speak, for musical action." In fact, pitch unisons underpin the structure of the piece at lower levels as well: for much of its length, the main thread of the music is a single strand of melody, passed constantly from voice to voice by means of momentary overlaps-pitch unisons-or close juxtapositions. As the work progresses, the counterpoints to this line, sparse at first, gain in importance, until eventually all of the four parts are almost continuously active.
David Vayo teaches composition, theory, and Latin American music at Illinois Wesleyan University. From the quiet, string-harmonic-dominated chords of the opening, a sustained lyrical impulse suffuses his Poem (1990). It is centered especially in the strings, which carry it even through the work's capricious middle section, and raise it later to an almost cantorial intensity of declamation. Afterwards, the music returns to a stillness recalling its beginning, evaporating on a chord not far removed from the very first. The composer remarks that he can discern in his own work unconscious echoes of Ives, Bloch, Villa-Lobos, and Mayuzumi; but the listener is less likely to hear specific references to any of these composers than a vocal quality of melodic line with affinities, at times, in all of them.
Gustavo Moretto was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and after a very active performing career as a trumpeter and keyboardist, he traveled to the United States to pursue formal training in composition. Silenciosamente for violin, clarinet, and piano (1990) is designed, the composer writes, around the conflict between contrasting moods: one reflective and quiet (and ultimately triumphant), the other, continually challenging the first, active and nervous. The violin part-wide-ranging, lyrical, and richly double-stopped-is the primary agent of the first mood, the piano of the second, while the clarinet acts as a mediator or buffer between them. The last violent encroachment of the second mood ends in the establishment of a repeated C pedal tone in the lowest reaches of the keyboard, which underpins the remainder of the piece.
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