BY THOMAS MISSON
Objetos de Imitacion
New music by various composers
Simon Reade (conductor), Michael Kieran Harvey (piano), Benjamin Price (saxophone), Graeme Jennings (violin), Dan Brown (percussion)
Stanley Burbury Theatre, University of Tasmania, 18 June
Stanley Burbury Theatre and its audience likely haven’t heard much Elliott Carter performed in Tasmania. At the hands of contemporary specialists Graeme Jennings and Michael Kieran Harvey with about a century of combined experience, these two readily admit that this music is incredibly tough.
But despite these concerns of difficulty in Carter’s music, I found Graeme and Michael both brought incredible humanity to the Duo for Violin and Piano. The violin evoked the sound of stuttered tatters from old Romantic violin concertos, played to the wintry backdrop of piano. The live music provided a background for us to examine the two aspects these instruments brought to the work’s overall character. Sometimes these layers were offered on their own soloistic lilt; at other moments, building waves of sound together.
While the program notes revealed much pragmatism to the compositional approach of Michael’s Flies from his Green Brain suite, I found the fine performance outweighed the engagement of the piece itself. Though, in hindsight, I see the problem of adjustment – from listening to the previous duo, to this work – was a possible culprit, along with performing just an excerpt of a broader suite.
Benjamin Price then joined Michael for Scott McIntyre’s Constellationism IV for saxophone and piano. There were many extended techniques including timbral trills, air sounds, quarter tones, and blocked strings on the piano; all of which sounded organic. Benjamin sometimes exploited the exotic potential of the saxophone, giving it a strained quality like a high bassoon. After the piano dropped out, the middle section was dominated by four-part multiphonic writing with some touches of bowed vibraphone from Dan Brown. These required strong focus from Benjamin, but he was up to the task. Benjamin gave appropriate stillness to this more lonely, spacious section before Michael rejoined for the rush to the finish.
Don Kay’s Sleeping Water for saxophone and piano made a good companion piece for the less-compromising Elliott Carter. The fleeting states of tranquil calm and darker agitation represented the naturalistic duality of Tasmania’s Lake St Clair in a confident performance from the duo, giving great respect to this music.
In Simon Reade’s saxophone concertino Morning at Last, the piano gave extra ‘ping’ to the integral motion of the saxophone part. Benjamin gave a secure, confident, and well-shaped performance of this concertino, working with the accompanying mixed ensemble with ease. Caerwin Martin’s The Traveller was a harmonically reserved piece with moments of textural oscillation that edged toward a chamber-pop aesthetic. Some instruments in the large chamber ensemble didn’t always speak clearly at times: some of the shaping and dynamic breadth across the ensemble simply wasn’t exaggerated enough.
Composed for Music Biennale Zagreb’s 5-minute Piano Concerto Competition, Andrian Pertout’s Objetos de Imitacion is based on rudimentary paradiddle exercises for snare drum. As a result, this short piano concerto boasted a groove and percussive rhythmic drive, and made for a satisfyingly structured piece: a fun and fitting finale and a good contrast to everything that came before. This was given an energetic treatment from Michael Kieran Harvey, especially in the brighter, harsher capabilities of the piano.
Though a new music performance in Hobart brings us hope for the future, I found my personal level of engagement was inconsistent and the sense of relish in musical dialogue and dynamics could have been richer in the backing groups.
Despite this, I left the concert with something very significant: a changed relationship with the music of Elliott Carter, having made the leap from amazement at its difficulty, appreciation at its detail, curiosity of its craft and process to visceral connection to its humanity and emotional content.
Want to learn more? Read Scott McIntyre’s blog about writing for Michael Kieran Harvey.
Composers Scott McIntyre and Thomas Misson are CutCommon Skype mentors.