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Assessment: Emory Chamber, MOCA GA showcase modern Atlanta composers

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 may be as a lot of a liberating of the inventive thoughts as it’s an excuse to randomly throw paint on a canvas within the identify 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 alternatives 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 readily available to introduce his composition and described his piece as an effort to translate fiddle tunes from numerous people traditions into the string quartet setting. 

These themes served as the premise for a set of partaking, satisfying 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 introduced by the variation course of. Finally, the music itself was calming and fascinating however the cease/begin high quality of the sections when introduced collectively left the sensation of being frequently 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. (Photograph 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 probabilities of latest composition. Simply because the phrase “modern” on the planet of visible arts is secret code for throwing off the Romantic requirements of kind 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 all the time 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 enormous Singleton is extra centered on exploring the tonal form of the flute’s sound. In doing so, he commits important time to overblowing the flute and exploiting the sonic clashes that happen when the instrument trills on dissonant intervals. 

The explanation it really works is that even in absence of an outlined melodic construction, it’s all the time obvious that there’s a harmonic system — nonetheless unique and unconventional it might be — from which Singleton is deriving the composition as an entire. The attention of that bigger cohesion made “Argoru III” really feel like an ongoing journey reasonably 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 comfortable 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 trade of concepts and into the realm of indignant screaming. The tip outcome was a bit with potential that gave approach to the worst excesses of latest 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 definitely 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 partaking 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 people melody, this time “Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair.” The work was commissioned as an anniversary reward by Emory Chamber Music Society founder and inventive 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 understand 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.

Your entire 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 of 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 Faculty of Music, he’s an expert guitarist, bandleader and composer. He’s presently the lead guitarist for the jazz group Different Strangers, the facility metallic band Axis of Empires and the melodic dying/thrash metallic band Century Spawn.



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