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Baltimore Composers Forum Concert

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Featuring International Guests
Goucher College Music Department’s Ars Viva Concert Series
Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

Goucher College presented a fascinating and entertaining program at the Baltimore Composers Forum Concert Wednesday night.

Korean Shabang Cho based her string trio, Heterophonic, on two Korean styles of Buddhist ritual chants and dances which use a set of five pitches. Some of the pitches were in an extremely high range, often with rapid, soft bowing. Each instrument had its own melodic line throughout, but to Jimbo’s ear, the piece as a whole was a pleasing meld of Eastern sounds in the modern Western musical tradition. Phanos Dymiotis, violin, Catharine Frey, viola, and Gretchen Gettes, cello, played Heterophonic with professional polish.

Baltimore composer, George F. Spicka, performed his own piano work, What We All Once Knew. According to the program notes, the composition consisted of a “device, a ‘harmonic sketch,’ [which] provides a framework of chords, inversions, pedal tones, and voicings that serve as a guide for improvisation” combined with a “‘stream of consciousness’ type improvisation… [with] the goal to spontaneously create a performance that sounds coherent and musical, and reflect emotionally upon the title of the work.”

Since this was my first listening, I could not discern the framework from the improvisation. Also, given the apparently instructional nature of the composition, I wonder if it would not have been more in the spirit of the piece for it to be performed by a pianist other than the composer. Imagine a lounge piano player improvising on lush, emotional chords for a good sense of how the piece sounded to me.

Kyoko Fujiwara played Alan Duckworth’s piano composition, The People’s Polonaise. Duckworth, a retired research chemist, amateur composer, and freelance thinker, instructed the listener to “read the following program notes for The People’s Polonaise, since they enhance the music considerably.” Jimbo dutifully read the brief recap of the history of the polonaise and the programmatic scenes Duckworth wished to depict. The notes in fact did enhance Jimbo’s comedic enjoyment of the polonaise: this time imagine a Chopin composition (very loosely), played (broadly) like the accompaniment to a silent movie, about the successful revolt of Polish peasants against the nobility. It was humorous and fun!

The highlight of the evening was four songs from Ricardo Riccardi’s Canti da Pessoa, the final two of which were world premieres. These songs, beautifully performed by Clay Purdy, violin; Susan Anderson, clarinet; David Shumway, cello; and sopranos Erin Brittain and Laura Stricklang, are firmly rooted in the art song tradition. And they were lovely, nostalgic, evocative of the sea. The second song performed was an instrumental; each instrument played its own line, often independently, sometimes overlapping, rarely together. Every song had fresh sounds, tones and expressed equally fresh emotions. A wonderful treat for this listener.

David Shumway and Kyoko Fujiwara performed Li Yiding‘s Guge Mountain Ruins. Despite the fact that Li Yiding has composed music for more than 80 films and TV plays as well as published nearly 100 songs in Chinese periodicals, Jimbo had never heard of her. In keeping with a theme of the evening, this was another programmatic and geographically-connected composition.

In one way, Guge Mountain Ruins reminded Jimbo that the Western listener is at a disadvantage to those who live in a non-western culture. Our, Western, popular and folk songs use the same instruments as our more formal ‘high’ culture. Because the West is the dominating culture, westerners do not have much opportunity (if it exists at all) of hearing ‘our’ music performed on classical instruments from other traditions. Li Yiding’s work used cello and piano to evoke ancient Tibetan culture. As enjoyable as it was, I wondered what it would have sounded like if it had been composed for and played on traditional Tibetan or oriental instruments.

Because of some last minute changes to the program due to illness, Kendall Kennison and Robert Hitz stepped in at the last moment, each to perform a short piano piece of his own. Both merit longer hearings.

Contrary to my expectation the composers did not use any percussion instruments (excluding piano) or percussive sounds which seem to be included in many leading contemporary symphonic compositions. Perhaps because the program was entirely chamber music.

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  • Eric Olsen

    fascinating stuff James, you have elevated our cultural level considerably – thanks and welcome!

  • George F. Spicka

    Hi James,

    I’m more then willing to get together with you, and educate you so you can discern more then just, “lush, emotional chords.”

    A good starting point would be for you to familiarize yourself with harmonic tone poems, and then imagine them blended with jazz harmonic structures and forms.


    George F. Spicka

  • NEVER show fear, always keep your cool, attempt to ignore anyone you think is insulting your point of view and never pound on your keyboard or cuss at your monitor and you’ll be fine… I hope.

    … oh and welcome

  • … and that little icon at the title of each article… use it as much as possible.

  • …the one with the thumbs up sign