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Voice of the Composer
     

The Voice of the Composer

by Emily Freeman Brown
 
Bowling Green State University in northern Ohio has an excellent Philharmonia that is one of the oldest collegiate orchestras in the United States, founded in 1918. The Mid-American Center for Contemporary Music is also based out of Bowling Green, and the university annually hosts visiting composers. Albany's The Voice of the Composer: New Music from Bowling Green,

Overview

Bowling Green State University in northern Ohio has an excellent Philharmonia that is one of the oldest collegiate orchestras in the United States, founded in 1918. The Mid-American Center for Contemporary Music is also based out of Bowling Green, and the university annually hosts visiting composers. Albany's The Voice of the Composer: New Music from Bowling Green, Vol. 5, is a direct result of BGSU's efforts on behalf of new music and features a slate of six composers whose works have been performed in their festival concerts. It is an interesting slate, as it runs from an elder statesman -- Samuel Adler -- to very young composers such as Steven Bryant and Huang Ruo. Each composer contributes to the album in the form of a brief, spoken prolog to each composition; the overall effect is not unlike listening to a radio program. The colloquial phrase "over the top" might well summarize the first two works on the program, and in the case of Steven Bryant's "Loose Id" (1996), it is intended as a compliment. Sick and tired of the academicism of the conservatory, for his thesis Bryant composed a piece that is visceral, violent, and anti-intellectual; it is also an exhilarating piece of writing that, in its short, four-minute timespan isn't likely to wear out its welcome under any circumstances. Bryant expresses regrets about then having to defend the work to his professors, but he need not worry about defending it to audiences; it is a wild ride, a wrathful, cathartic yawp of consciousness that young listeners will find easy to appreciate. Huang Ruo's "Leaving Sao" (2003) is intended as a heartfelt memorial to his mother, which works. While it contains some striking and bold scoring for the orchestra, some listeners might not be able to get used to Huang's bizarre falsetto vocal, which whoops and whorls on Huang's own text. It would be interesting to hear this done with a soprano with some chops in new music technique; while Huang's own delivery is genuine, it is of debatable quality in a purely vocal sense. Samuel Adler is the most experienced gun in the BGSU posse; his book on orchestration is so clear-cut, simple, and effective that it has just about supplanted the long-established Walter Piston text in most classes. His music -- and there is a great deal of it -- tends to run hot and cold, and "The Fixed Desire of the Human Heart" (1988), written to honor the 70th anniversary of the League of Nations, is rather lukewarm. It contains some very assured orchestral writing, but no strong themes, and its style is atonal "lite" with some measure of tonal references. However, it is easy to associate the work with the program Adler as advanced for it, and the last third of it is quite enjoyable. Coincidentally, it is similar in style to the Shulamit Ran piece that follows, "Vessels of Courage and Hope" (1998), which was written for a similar purpose, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Ran's native state of Israel. By way of a program, Ran focuses on the siege of the S.S. President Warfield in Haifa Harbor, an incident that set the stage for the establishment of Israel. Ran makes use of some very good brass writing, but the piece is a tad overlong, and in contrast to the title, the ending isn't very hopeful. The piece is successful in maintaining a sense of action out over the open sea, which is strange because the attack on the Warfield occurred when the boat was in dock! Composer John Ross has one up on Huang in that he has the wisdom to employ a vocalist other than himself to transmit the text of his orchestral setting of a poem by Marvin Bell, "After a Line By Theodore Roethke" (1996). This is the best work on the disc; the soprano line, sung by Jane Schoonmaker Rodgers, contains a bounty of gracious melody that effectively suits the text. Ross offers in support a novel orchestration that consistently stays one step ahead of the listener, yet is lush, multi-leveled, and rich with vivid and visually oriented scoring. Michael Daugherty's "Raise the Roof" (2003) is a concerted piece for timpani and orchestra that expands upon the classical-cum-heavy metal ethos advanced in pieces like Christopher Rouse's percussion piece "Bonham" (1988). In trying to keep the timpani to the fore, however, Daugherty orchestrates to keep the accompaniment out of the way of the soloist, and the resulting ripieno seems underfed. This is not as much of an issue in short passages where the timpanist is not playing. Some of it sounds like some of the music Stan Kenton produced with university ensembles in mind, and although it has the least connection among these works with academic styles of composition, it sounds the most like a college piece. Albany's The Voice of the Composer: New Music from Bowling Green, Vol. 5, is certainly an interesting and engaging collection of contemporary music for orchestra, and the Bryant and Ross works are definitely contenders. However, the best thing about the disc is the quality of the Bowling Green Philharmonia itself under Emily Freeman Brown. It sounds like a full-on professional orchestra, not a student ensemble, and for composers to be able to hear their music played by such a strong group within the confines of a university setting is almost more of a gift than they should expect, or possibly deserve.

Product Details

Release Date:
05/06/2008
Label:
Albany Records
UPC:
0034061102021
catalogNumber:
1020

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