Nuovi Spazi Musicali 2012: Pulse and Dash

Nuovi Spazi Musicali 2012: Pulse and Dash
Margaret Donaghue, Scott Flavin, Marina Radiushina, Anthony Cheung, Jesse Jones, Ada Gentile, Richard Trythall, GianPaolo Chiti, Giovanni Guaccero and Fabio Ciardi Cifariello

Joshua Colin Birk is the Millicent Mercer Johnsen Post-Doctoral Rome Prize Fellow in Medieval Studies and Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Smith College.

The thirty-third edition of the annual Roman new music festival “Nuovi Spazi Musicali,” curated by composer Ada Gentile, concluded a series of five concerts with a program at the Villa Aurelia on Monday evening, October 22, 2012. With the support of an international consortium of twelve organizations and academies, the other concerts took place at the Hungarian Academy and the Polish Institute. 

The AAR program was performed without intermission by the ensemble Pulse Chamber Music from Miami, Florida (Marina Radiushina, piano; Scott Flavin, violin and viola; Margaret Donaghue Flavin, clarinet). The program began with American composer’s Jennifer Higdon’s Dash, for violin, piano and clarinet, in its Roman premiere. Clearly the title was intended in its sense as an active verb: the agitation and drive of the piece were reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s wonderful opening to the Hitchcock thriller North By Northwest. Italian composer Giampaolo Chiti’s L’età del ombra (The Age of Shadow) followed, opening with an extended tremolo in the viola and maximizing on the tonal kinship of alto voices, between viola and clarinet, to create a mood of autumnal moodiness. (One is reminded that Brahms’ sublime clarinet sonatas can be played to equally good effect on viola.) Giovanni Guaccero’s Impressioni per un preludio per clarinetto (Impressions for a Clarinet Prelude), a trio with viola and piano, heard in its world premiere, opened with the piano’s intoning of a single repeated note, gradually accelerating and moving eventually into a kind of interrupted meditation that exploited the low register and microtonal possibilities of the viola. In the final section, the viola took over the pedal point from the piano in a duet with the clarinet moving into a converging unison. 

Luciano Berio Rome Prize winner Anthony Cheung’s Running the (Full) Gamut, for solo piano, was heard in its Roman premiere, and as the title suggests, exploited the full pianistic range, suggesting the composer’s deep affinity with the instrument. The composition ended with tone clusters after thorough explorations worthy of the great late 20th century composers. Returning to the ensemble of violin, clarinet and piano, Fabio Cifariello Ciardi’s Pre, titled with impudent brevity, proved to be an acoustic romp of almost Dadaist esprit, though with moments of genuine weight. Also, like other compositions on the evening’s program, it featured a technique of gathering notes to each other. The purpose of this piece was less motivic development than the sonic experience of single pitches: thus the E-string of the violin, scoured with the bow, was twinned acoustically with the upper strings of the prepared piano, also scoured. Three empty plastic mineral water bottles, one for each musician, revealed themselves to be percussion devices with a treble register when mashed and crumpled underfoot during the performance, even though the pianist was shushing her colleagues, or the piano, or indeed the whole performance: for at the end, the clarinettist balled up one sheet of her music and tore up several others, with the pianist escorting the violinist (still madly rhapsodizing) off the stage. Elliott Carter Rome Prize winner Jesse Jones’s Unisono (Unison) followed, also in its Roman premiere, and included beautiful echo effects between the violin and the clarinet, achieving a delightful variety and exploiting both unison and octave. Indeed, the composition expanded outward into a frolicsome festival and then devolved back in the direction of unison.

A pleasing coincidence of this concert was that it concluded with a piece specifically written for the occasion by Charles Mason (FAAR ‘06), a colleague of the Pulse Chamber Music musicians at the University of Miami, recollecting with pleasure his own time in Rome. The title of Charles Mason’s piece, Pulsearrhytmic, sounds like a dire medical diagnosis, but in fact the composition was highly rhythmical and even lyrical, and in its spirit it might have been marked allegro giocoso. In this it made an effective bookend with the Higdon composition that opened the program: two sprightly essays framing material that was both playful and searching. All of the composers except Higdon were present to receive the applause of an appreciative standing-room-only  crowd, which then adjourned for a wine reception after this strong bi-national opening to the 2012-13 AAR concert season. 

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