Friday, January 04, 2013

Berkeley Symphony, 12/6/2012

Oh yeah, I do know the concert was a month ago. I have, in fact, made a couple of postings related to the program already, but thought I would get a more explicit summary up.

The program was called The Rebels; the composers were Dylan Mattingly, Gyorgi Ligeti, and Robert Schumann.

I happened to review a Cabrillo program in August on which there appeared another orchestral work of Mattingly's, I Was a Stranger, which was commissioned by none other than John Coolidge Adams and Deborah O'Grady (Adams's wife). Adams, I gather, has been something of a mentor to Mattingly.

I feel like I've hit some kind of trifecta in hearing two works by this young composer:
  • In two acoustically crappy halls
  • Played by two superb part-time orchestras
  • Conducted by two women whose strengths include their work in new music
Everything I said about I Was a Stranger applies equally well to Invisible Skyline. Mattingly is certainly talented, and he gets some nice sounds out of a big orchestra. But I was twiddling my thumbs and restless about 2/3 of the way through each movement - excuse, me "act;" he subtitles it a work in three acts. He has figured out orchestration, but not form.

And I don't understand what this piece is doing on a program called The Rebels, a title that must have been dreamed up by Berkeley Symphony's PR Department. If you're 21 and your music sounds like a somewhat aimless version of music your famous mentor might have written 25 years ago, you are not a rebel. You are an imitator.

The thing is, it's totally appropriate for a 21-year-old to be writing music that is somewhat imitative. Not every composer has a distinctive and recognizable voice at that age. I think JCA was a Harvard student chafing under the thumb of serialism when he was 21, but I've never heard any of his works from that time. You can bet that I remember all of the serialist music written in the 70s by Brandeis grad students who were being trained by Martin Boykin and the other Brandeis serialists. (Considering how many young composers are writing serialist music these days, the "rebel" label would have been more appropriate if Invisible Skyline had been all tone rows and metrical modulation.)

I'm just not convinced that it's so helpful to give a not-yet-fully-formed composer quite as much of a platform as Mattingly is getting. I would give him more time to develop before his music is put on such prominent display.

As for the rest of the program, the Ligeti piano concerto got a bang-up performance from pianist Shai Wosner and a reduced ensemble. I do not have notes, and I can't go into much detail about the work or the performance, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. Same with the Schumann Second, which got a truly wonderful performance; graceful, well-balanced, energetic, and completely convincing, unlike the last time I heard it played by Berkeley Symphony, when Kent Nagano made a hash out of it. 

This concert was enough to make me a fan of Joana Carneiro. I wish she find a better performance space for her excellent band, but I'll come by again later this season.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For decades, the serialists were able to get away with claiming still to be rebels, long after they'd taken over the academy and imposed their hegemony on new music. So it hardly seems fair that, so soon after their overthrow, which isn't complete yet, they should be allowed to reclaim the rebel title.