Evaluate: Emory Chamber, MOCA GA showcase modern Atlanta composers

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The Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta featured 4 modern Atlanta composers on the Museum of Up to date Artwork of Georgia Sunday for a night of recent classical music which notably featured performances by Emory’s personal Vega Quartet.

It was an apt location: The museum — which featured an array of surrealistic visions — was a stark reminder that the label “modern” in artwork might be as a lot of a releasing of the artistic thoughts as it’s an excuse to randomly throw paint on a canvas within the title of summary modernism.

The world of so-called “modern” music is far the identical. For each boundary-pushing revolutionary like Arvo Pärt or Max Richter, there’s a John Cage or Mats Gustafsson — oddball purveyors of summary noise who carry themselves with an air of musical legitimacy.

The live performance started with the Vega Quartet performing picks from David Kirkland Garner’s “i ain’t broke (however i’m badly bent).” Garner, like all however one of many composers on the invoice, was available to introduce his composition and described his piece as an effort to translate fiddle tunes from numerous folks traditions into the string quartet setting. 

These themes served as the idea for a set of participating, gratifying passages however all of them appeared to conclude far too quickly — as if Garner sought solely to satisfy his curiosity on the prospect of listening to the themes performed out by a string ensemble and no additional delving into the compositional prospects offered by the variation course of. In the end, the music itself was calming and fascinating however the cease/begin high quality of the sections when offered collectively left the sensation of being regularly jerked awake as one tried to float off into a nice sleep.

Alvin Singleton’s “Argoru III” was an instance of musical-boundary pushing paying off. (Picture by C. Watson)

Alvin Singleton’s “Argoru III,” a flute solo right here carried out by James Zellers, emerged as one of many night’s higher examples of the chances of up to date composition. Simply because the phrase “modern” on the earth of visible arts is secret code for throwing off the Romantic requirements of type and construction related to earlier eras of portray, so the “modern” in composition is related to the abandonment of conventional notions of melody and rhythm and is due to this fact at all times skirting the boundary between music and noise. 

“Argoru III” is a primary instance of that boundary pushing paying off. There are transient hints of a creating melody, however by and huge Singleton is extra centered on exploring the tonal form of the flute’s sound. In doing so, he commits vital time to overblowing the flute and exploiting the sonic clashes that happen when the instrument trills on dissonant intervals. 

The rationale it really works is that even in absence of an outlined melodic construction, it’s at all times obvious that there’s a harmonic system — nonetheless unique and unconventional it might be — from which Singleton is deriving the composition as a complete. The attention of that bigger cohesion made “Argoru III” really feel like an ongoing journey moderately than random probing.

Mark Gresham’s “Genshi” would, sadly, land on the much less palatable finish of the modern spectrum. A duet for violin and clarinet — right here performed by Helen Kim and Ted Gurch, respectively — the piece felt summary and unfocused. Initially there was a mushy however deliberate dialogue between the devices. However because it constructed up, that dialogue turned like an argument that pushes previous the purpose of a coherent change of concepts and into the realm of offended screaming. The tip outcome was a bit with potential that gave approach to the worst excesses of up to date composition.

Juan Ramirez’s “Suite Latina” was one other of the night’s standouts and noticed the Vega Quartet return to the stage. The piece, divided into three actions, is actually avant garde in its unconventional construction and use of harmonically tense passages. However, like “Argoru III” earlier than it, the piece succeeds for its use of a clearly outlined harmonic system — on this case, the compositional underpinnings of assorted Latin types. In “Suite Latina,” nonetheless, Ramirez by no means shies away from creating and exploring participating melodies and it’s that capability which really units him aside.

Garner returned to the helm for the world premiere efficiency of “black, black, black is the color,” right here carried out by Vega Quartet violist Yinzi Kong. The piece is one other modern reimagining of a conventional folks melody, this time “Black is the Coloration of My True Love’s Hair.” The work was commissioned as an anniversary reward by Emory Chamber Music Society founder and creative director William Ransom for Kong, his spouse, who quipped that her husband’s concept of a present was giving her extra work. 

The piece itself noticed Garner notice the potential he solely hinted at in “i ain’t broke” and noticed him develop the unique melody into one thing haunting and visceral that, like Singleton’s work earlier than it, explored the tonal prospects of the instrument in query.

All the Vega Quartet returned to shut out the night with a efficiency of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Op. 133, a bit so chosen as a result of it was thought-about to be wildly dismissive of the musical conventions of its day and, as such, appropriately positioned among the many different boundary-pushing works on show and a becoming finish to an experimental night.


Jordan Owen started writing about music professionally on the age of 16 in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2006 graduate of the Berklee School of Music, he’s an expert guitarist, bandleader and composer. He’s presently the lead guitarist for the jazz group Different Strangers, the ability metallic band Axis of Empires and the melodic loss of life/thrash metallic band Century Spawn.


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