Last week, Steve Smith of the NY Times wrote a nice article about a
But don’t go and read it yet. Hold on a sec.
…Xanthos Ensemble of Boston, which came to Roulette in SoHo on Saturday night with a program featuring works by three uncompromising modernists: Pierre Boulez, Mario Davidovsky and Charles Wuorinen. And in the hands of musicians so copiously skilled and confident, this undeniably challenging music had genuine appeal.
Yes! Challenging, appealing music! Hooray!
That Mr. Boulez is modern music’s foremost voluptuary is no secret. Much of his ensemble music seems as much descended from the gauzy Impressionism of Debussy and the instrumental brilliance of Ravel as from any modernist vein. “Dérive I,” a brief work scored for the now-standard “Pierrot”-plus configuration — flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion — was a brief, intoxicating cloud of trills and flutters.
I’m not entirely sure what “modern music’s foremost volupturary” means (and my Google search for that phrase returned zero results), so I’m not sure that it’s no secret. The sentiment, though, is welcome, and tracing Boulez to Debussy is something all-too-infrequently done.
I also like the image of a “brief, intoxicating cloud”. Sounds like we’re smokin’!
Equally mysterious if less outright sensual was Mr. Davidovsky’s “Flashbacks,” in which sharp eruptions and skittering figures repeatedly rupture a placid rumination. The percussion part makes daunting demands of its player with its rapid-fire alternations of timbre and technique. George Nickson handled the role with ease and flair.
I am a sucker for alliteration.
Most appealing of all was Mr. Wuorinen’s “New York Notes,” in which six players mix and match in a cheerfully choreographed bustle. The opening movement is filled with jazzy rhythms and snatches of nostalgic melody. A throaty cello monologue in the second movement is followed by a passage in which flute and violin curl seductively around a lonely clarinet. In the final movement, a wild barrage of impressions, you can’t help but be swept away by Mr. Wuorinen’s giddy thrill in writing for virtuoso players.
Wuorinen: serialist holdout. You know, for those people who claim that “nobody writes 12-tone music” at all ever anymore, and why would they, blah blah blah.
Among four newer pieces, only Derek Charke’s “What Do the Birds Think?” could be said to extend the modernist tradition. The work’s animated outer movements call for a catalog of unorthodox expressive techniques. In between, an onstage trio (alto flute with muted violin and cello) is juxtaposed with an offstage duo (bass clarinet and percussion). While physical separation was impossible here, the layered sounds still proved fascinating.
Sounds great! What else?
In Daniel Knaggs's "Three Nature Songs," a premiere, the soprano Jennifer Ashe sang sweet, airy melodies accompanied by instrumental impressions of chirping birds and croaking frogs. "Aria IV," bu Pozzi Escot, had Ms. Ashe ritualistically intoning vowels over a droning flute and tinkle of finger cymbals. Donald Hagar's playful "I Am Not a Clock" alternated between bustling, mechanical rhythms and slow, dreamy interludes.
Actually, Escot’s piece sounds like it “extend[s] the modernist tradition”, too. But, whatever.
Why am I writing about this? It was a great review. It treated the pieces fairly, and on their own merits. It was well-written with lots of style.
Because I omitted the beginning of the first paragraph, reproduced below:
The word has been out for decades now: The bug-eyed monster of musical modernism is vanquished. Try telling that to the young, accomplished members of the Xanthos Ensemble…
Why? Why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why?
Why begin a wonderful review of young, scrappy, new music-advocating players playing new music you liked and reviewed well by reiterating old-hack adages about the death of dumb old “bug-eyed monster” modernism?
Aargh! “Everyone knows modernism sucks/sucked, but here’s my review of some modern music that was actually good!”?
Besides reinforcing damnable and clichéd stereotypes, it undermines the article before it even begins.