On Saturday evening, under the aegis of the Hays Symphony Orchestra, the New Music Ensemble, all members of the FHSU music faculty, launched their first concert of works by living composers. Kristin Pisano, artistic director, promised the audience “an evening of unique, exciting (and new) music.” And so it was.
Cellist Benjamin Cline performed a composition by Michael Gordon, “Light is Calling” (2004), for cello, electronics and film (the film, by Bill Morrison, adapts scenes from a decaying 1926 movie to Gordon’s music). Cline wrought powerful cascades of sound from his electronically augmented cello while bits of the movie flickered in and out like images half-seen in a dream. Mesmerizing.
Pisano, clarinet, and her husband James Pisano, alto saxophone, then played two movements of Gregory Wanamaker’s four-movement “Duo Sonata” (2002). This piece pays more attention to classical forms than the Gordon, but doesn’t take them altogether seriously. At the end, the alto sax got in a nice little jazzy turn. Good fun.
Hilary Shepard, flute, continued the good times with Derek Charke’s “Warning! Gustnadoes Ahead,” for flute and electronics (2008). Gustnadoes are weak dust tornadoes — in other words, “dust devils.” The piece puts the flute through its paces as it is buffeted around by the breeze.
An entirely electronic composition, “Orbit” (2003) by FHSU’s Timothy Rolls, captivated the audience — the music went round and round like a dignified gustnado.
Shah Sadikov, viola, and Rolls, electronics, collaborated beautifully in “Vent Nocturne: Dark Mirrors” (2006) by Kaija Saariaho. Saariaho is a pioneer of “spectral” music, or music that tries to realize the spectrum of sounds or different voices a single note can form. But audiences do not have to understand the theory to appreciate the music. “Vent Nocturne,” in my opinion, was the high point of the evening. I admit this makes me feel a little guilty — should I say instead Saariaho sounds a tad too traditional?
The concert ended with Libby Larsen’s lively “Barn Dances” (2001), performed by Shepard, flute, Kristin Pisano, clarinet, and Irena Ravitskaya, piano. This suite in four movements contrasts different kinds of barn dances — hoe down, Gene Autrey and so forth, winding up in a wild and irresistible “Rattlesnake Twist.”
The evening concluded with a feast of desserts as varied as new music, sponsored by a generous donation from Nex-Tech.
Ruth Firestone is a frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.