Boston: Here Comes Everybody, Toy Pianos Included

Julia Werntz
Julia Werntz
Photo by Michele Macrakis

Boston new music lovers and visitors, here are some points of interest about the 2005-06 concert season now underway…

Boston Musica Viva, directed by Richard Pittman, opened its season on October 7 with “Cybersonic Adventures”—a concert much more exciting than its title, with Kaija Saariaho’s thrilling Aer, and some other deeply engaging works, such as Peter Child’s Ensemblance for ensemble with live electronics, and Lift, a minimalist collaboration between composer Barbara White and filmmaker Alison Crocetta involving dozens of helium-filled balloons. BMV will continue its season on November 4 with “Boston (Musica Viva) Celtics,” featuring music by composers with an Irish or Scottish and Boston connection. (Too bad we’ll be forced to choose between this and the BMOP concert, and the first concert in the “Extensible Toy Piano Festival” at Clark University, on the same night. See below.) On February 5, BMV hosts its annual family concert, featuring Bernard Hoffer’s ballet Ma Goose, with dancers of the Northeast Youth Ballet, and narrator Bob McGrath, of Sesame Street. (This year I’ll bring my daughter.) Finally, on April 22, BMV will present “Honoring Varèse and the International Composer’s Guild,” with works by composers who had been included in that series, including a new sextet by Chou Wen-Chung. All BMV concerts are held at Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center.

Collage New Music, directed by David Hoose, will give Boston (or formerly of Boston) composers a good showing this season, with works by Curtis Hughes, Marti Epstein, Elliott Gyger, David Rakowski, Gunther Schuller, Peter Child, Martin Brody, Tod Machover, and, in a February 27 memorial concert for Boston’s beloved Edward Cohen, works by Cohen, Seymour Schifrin, and Marjorie Merryman. Hughes is Collage’s composer-in-residence this year, and I’m looking forward very much to the new work he is writing for their spring concert. Many local performers are fans of his music, which is usually a good sign. Collage concerts are all held at Pickman Hall at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, and the dates are 10/31 (program includes HK Gruber’s Frankenstein!!), 1/30, 2/27, and 3/27.

Boston veteran new music activists Dinosaur Annex, co-directed by composer/conductor Scott Wheeler and flutist Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin, opened its season with “Sleeping, Waking, Dreaming,” featuring works by Richard Cornell, Jeff Nichols, Ruth Lomon, Stefan Hakenberg, and Arthur Levering. (Sadly, I missed this one.) DA’s season will continue with the third annual “Salute to Young Composers” on February 12. This festival was created, says Wheeler, when DA realized it “needed to find out more about the new generation of composers” and to “keep its repertoire fresh.” They began by seeking out area graduate-level composers, and the festival has since expanded to include events for composers of high school age and younger. This year’s group of composers includes Montserrat Torras, David Little, Lei Liang, Erik Jorgensen, Richard Beaudoin, and Dominique Schafer. These events are held at Boston’s Community Music Center. DA’s season will end with “American Triple Play” on April 30, featuring works by Fred Lerdahl, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, and Boston’s John Harbison. All Dinosaur Annex concerts are held at First Church in Boston.

Alea III, directed by composer and conductor Theodore Antoniou, has a long history of supporting young composers with its annual International Composition Competition. The concert featuring this year’s finalists was on October 1, and the winners were American composer Martha Callison Horst and Mario Carro of Spain. On top of that, Alea will hold a “Young Composers’ Workshop” on March 13 with Gunther Schuller conducting works by composers from the U.S., Italy, Albania, Turkey, and, of course, Greece. In addition, on regular Alea concerts, Antoniou has always showcased an international selection of composers, as well as locals. Works by Giya Kanchelli, Witold Lutoslawski, Karel Husa, Varèse, George Tsontakis, George Couroupos, Alexandros Kalogeras, and Antoniou himself, as well as Americans Paul Chihara, John Thow, Jay Reise, Brian Fennelly, Michael Gandolfi, and others, are programmed on this season’s other four concerts (11/16, 12/7, 2/1, 4/9). The April 9 concert will be “Celebrating Alea,” an event “featuring distinguished international artists and speakers” (exactly who, TBA). All Alea III concerts are held at Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center.

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project will open its season on November 4 with the North American premiere of Louis Andriessen’s 1997 Trilogy of the Last Day, featuring members of the Boston Children’s Chorus and Andriessen’s long-time collaborator, pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama, who will sing and play the koto as well. The press release points out that Mukaiyama “has collaborated with artists such as architects and fashion designers in hopes of developing new forms of performance.” Personally, I am looking forward to hearing Andriessen’s much-discussed piece, as well as the music of Julia Wolfe and Boston’s Evan Ziporyn.

BMOP also has scheduled the following: the annual “Boston Connection” concert on January 21, which will include Lee Hyla’s Lives of the Saints (I heard this when it was premiered by Boston Musica Viva, and it’s been a few years since then, but I do remember being mesmerized by the vocal part—be sure to put this one in your date book); a concert devoted to “Concertos for Indigenous Instruments” on March 10 (works by Shirish Korde, Jin Hi Kim, Reza Vali, and Henry Cowell); and, on May 26, a “Big Band” concert, with Gershwin, Bernstein, Milton Babbitt, and the world premiere of William Thomas McKinley’s RAP featuring clarinetist Richard Stoltzman. All four concerts will take place at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall.

The Callithumpian Consort, directed by pianist Stephen Drury, will present music of John Luther Adams, Pozzi Escot, Gubbaidulina, Boulez, Xenakis, Rzewski, and others, in concerts in the various halls of the New England Conservatory, on 11/21, 2/1, 3/7, and 3/29. Callithupian’s season opened with a concert devoted to the music of John Luther Adams, which included the premiere of an important new work—a sixty-six minute elegy, For Lou Harrison, for string quartet, two pianos and string ensemble. (Sadly, I missed this one, too! My husband was performing on the same night.)

For a change in ambience, on February 13 the Firebird Ensemble, directed by violist Kate Vincent, will be presenting a “crossover” concert at Somerville barbeque joint Redbones in Davis Square, with arrangements of tunes by Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and Rage Against the Machine, along with pieces by Ian Clark and Marcin Bela. Firebird’s season also will include a May 9 Jordan Hall concert of premieres by Lee Hyla, Curtis Hughes, and John Mallia (newly added to the New England Conservatory faculty), and a Christmas season performance of Jon Deak’s Passion of Scrooge, which was a big hit last year (date and location still TBA). Firebird prides itself on its eclectic programming and top-notch players. Firebird’s concerts are always interesting and the atmosphere inviting.

Another off-the-beaten-path treasure is pianist Sarah Bob’s New Gallery Concert Series, at Boston’s Community Music Center, which features interactions between musicians and visual artists. On November 10, there will be a performance by the After Quartet, a group known for accompanying silent films. After Quartet percussionist Aaron Trant’s composition and solo performance of music for Chris Marker’s film La Jetée at an earlier New Gallery concert showed a deep involvement with the nuances of the film—a work of love; this show, which includes a new work of his, should be well worth hearing. There will be concerts on 1/26 and 5/11, including premieres of works by Daniel Felsenfeld and Nicholas Vines, in collaboration with painter Christina Memoli.

On November 4 and 5, Clark University in Worcester, will present the very exciting “Extensible Toy Piano Festival” at the Traina Center for the Arts. Co-directed by composers Matt Malsky and David Claman, the festival features pianists Phyllis Chen and John McDonald, as well as improvisations by the Callithumpian Consort. Events include the following: two symposia on “Composing/Performing” and “Listening”; a key-note address, “The Toy Piano in the Post-Prohibitive Age” by composer and critic Kyle Gann; concerts on both nights, with premieres of pieces involving the toy piano, by Malsky, Claman, Jeff Morris, Thanos Chysakis, James Bohn, Atsushi Yoshinaka, Adrian Pertout, John McDonald, Frank J. Oteri, and Howard Kenty, as well as works by Phyllis Chen, Kyle Gann, Matthew Sansom, and Rhodri Divies. As if that weren’t enough, a sound installation by John Mallia will be on view during the festival.

As for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, there’s too much happening to begin to cover here. A sampling of composers represented this season: Tippett, Saariaho, Golijov, Perle, Henze, Carter, Tan, Lieberson, Foss, Dawe, Schuller…

Happy listening.

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Composer Julia Werntz lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband, jazz pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, and their daughter Anna. Since the mid ’90s her music, mostly chamber pieces, has been almost exclusively microtonal. Her music has been performed around the Northeastern United States and Europe, and may be heard, together with works by composer John Mallia, on the CD All In Your Mind (Capstone Records). She currently teaches music theory as an adjunct faculty member at universities in the Boston area, and also is Director of the Boston Microtonal Society, together with her former teacher and BMS President, composer and jazz saxophonist Joseph Maneri.