Two new works by young composers – Review

I recently went to a fellow UMiami student, Corey Klein’s Masters Recital.  The recital featured more contemporary works for horn than one would expect (three by living composers), and two were of particular interest to me as they were written by young composers.  The third contemporary work was by UM composition department head Dennis Kam.  As a student at UM I’ll refrain from reviewing both Corey’s performance and Kam’s work thoroughly for some silly sense of journalistic integrity.  I will say this about Corey’s performance, his sound is very mellow and lush, and moving through the range & tessitura of the instrument seems effortless for him.  If you were to think of the word brass as an onomatopoeia, there was very little ‘brassiness’ to the playing.

Distance in The Eyes of Stars – Natalie Moller

The first piece by a young composer on the program was by Natalie Moller.   I am not sure if she was at the recital because she was not acknowledged after her piece was performed.   The piece begins with glistening clusters that seem to be condensed chords constructed out of upper partials or 7th, 9th, 11th… extensions.  The horn enters with muted glisses and some chromatic inflections that sound a bit like a lamentation.  As the music accelerated, the piano became percussive until arriving at some large cluster blows at the bottom of the range of the piano.  These attacks reminded me of Mahler’s Hammer Strikes of Fate.

After these crushing blows, a macabre dirge begins as the horn trills above the march like material.  As the piece begins to conclude, the piece returns to a heroic character that was glimpsed at earlier in the piece.  Finally the work climbs in range on the horn to the end.

My Beloved – Riho Esko Maimets

The second work by a young composer was from Estonian, Riho Esko Maimets.  The topic of the piece, while not specifically programmatic was heavily tilted towards a religious context.  The piece is based partly on a poem by an eighth century Sufi mystic, Rabi’a al-Basri.  The text is here:

My peace, O my brothers and sisters, is my
solitude,
And my Beloved is with me always,
For His love I can find no substitute,
And His love is the test for me among mortal
beings,
Whenever His Beauty I may contemplate,
He is my “mihrab”, towards Him is my “qiblah”
If I die of love, before completing satisfaction,
Alas, for my anxiety in the world, alas for my
distress,
O Healer (of souls) the heard feeds upon its
desire,
The striving after union with Thee has healed my
soul,
O my Joy and my Life abidingly,
You were the source of my life and from Thee
also came my ecstasy.
I have separated myself from all created beings,
My hope is for union with Thee, for that is the 
goal of my desire.

The piece starts out with a simple line in the piano that is directly evocative of chant.  As a listener, I believe I heard the outlining of the pitches of both the Kyrie and the Credo from the Christmas Day Mass.  There are three reasons that I could be hearing this:

  1. I think it would be hard for someone to avoid indirectly transcribing these two chants when trying to be evokative since they seem to be one of those bits of music that is out there in “the ether“.
  2. The composer is intentionally quoting and reducing.
  3. I just finished working with these materials myself in a composition, so I am just hearing what I want to hear.

Once the monody ran its course and other voices were added in, Maimets did a good job of maintaining the “Renaissance” sound he had created by focusing heavily on drones and perfect intervals.  Maimets’ timing was also very good, because just as a listener were to tire of the chant effect, he expanded on the idea of the chant line and changed the texture by adding in walking thirds, “modernizing” the sound.  Writing chant in a specifically religious piece is a cheap trick (one I have exploited for sure), but it is also effective.  If a composer wants to evoke reverence and awe, slap in some simple renaissance-like lines á la  Arvo Pärt and the audience will respond accordingly.

The introduction to this piece was quite long and Maimet withheld the horn from the entirety of it.  The horn’s entrance is a single stark pitch that stands out from the piano’s harmony.  The horn then develops into a flowing melody that is supported by wind chime tinkling at the top of the piano.  Some of the interesting ways that Maimets created harmonic tension was by moving from a monotonal system to a polytonal set of chords and then back again.

One of the more dramatic moments of the piece was when a large aria sequence developed out of chordal trills in the piano and a fantastic horn line, which soared to the denouement of the piece.  The conclusion features the music slowing back down and returns to the chiming texture in the piano but this time with the horn blowing wind through the pipes of the instrument.

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