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WAC: Powell, Durkee, Schwall, Dembo, Basford, Rhoads

Thomas Powell: The Ebullient Machine (1994)
Arthur Durkee: Minimal Dub Quartet (Walk the Good Red Road)
Jim Schwall: Djuna, Are You Still Alive (1991)
Royce Dembo: Trio (1976)
Michael Basford: Questionable Tactics (1995)
William Rhoads: Scherzophrenia (1994)

Stephen Damon, clarinet
Kevin Erickson, trumpet
James Latimer, percussion
Karen Boe, piano
Stephen Kadlecek, violin
Leanne Kelso, violin
Marcia Bean, viola
Karl Levine, cello
Andrew George, conductor
Nicole Colbert, choreographer and dancer
Eve Tai, dancer


Performers and composers taking part in a concert of recent works by six members of the Madison chapter of the Wisconsin Allaince for Composers Saturday evening at the Grace Episcopal Church undoubtedly perspired even more than the audience of about 70 did in the 90-degree heat inside the building, which even in good weather is far from the best venue for a chamber-music concert. The group has few resources beyond talent and determination, I suppose -- annual dues are a mere $5 -- so they must make do. But it is unfortunate nevertheless, since the music deserves to be heard in as fine a performance as can be mounted and in a place that doesn't obscure so much of the musicians' efforts, for indeed much of the music seemed quite good on this first hearing.

Thomas Powell's The Ebullient Machine (1994), a single movement scored for string quartet, features a highly syncopated rhythmic drive, against which lyrical elements must struggle to be heard. The scoring was tight and clean, and I thought the work was clear and coherent. That it somewhat recalled the quartet writing of Bartok -- one of the best models, after all -- did not diminish its vigor.

Arthur Durkee's Minimal Dub Quartet (Walk the Good Red Road) received its world premiere. A piano quartet of just under 15 minutes duration, it seeks to establish a trancelike rhythmic basis broken only by occasional motivic variations. The piece was perhaps longer than its materials warranted and could have benefitted from greater harmonic variety within its basic structure.

Jim Schwall's Djuna, Are You Still Alive (1991), was inspired by the writing of novelist Djuna Barnes and was scored for violin, piano, and two dancers. Given its very specific inspiration, the work is relatively abstract musically, though the dance was more immediately comprehensible.

The Trio (1976), by Royce Dembo, a piano trio cast in three movements, made considerable sense to me in its highly expressive middle movement, but in the outer ones I was unable to figure out what was going on. Michael Basford's Questionable Tactics (1995), also a world premiere, is nominally a string quartet, but since it calls (questionably indeed) for the players to growl, hiss, and knock on wood, it provided mostly enigmas.

The concluding work was Scherzophrenia (1994), by William Rhoads. Scored for clarinet, trumpet, violin, cello, percussion, and piano, this ambitious work, inspired by a term gleaned from John Cage's writing, displayed a high level of expressive intensity, wonderful rhythmic inventiveness, and very skillful orchestration.

All in all, I thought the first and last works were the strongest. The performers were first rate, especially given the trials of the steamy weather: Stephen Damon, clarinet; Kevin Erickson, trumpet; James Latimer, percussion; Karen Boe, piano; Stephen Kadlecek and Leanne Kelso, violins; Marcia Bean, viola; Karl Levine, cello; Andrew George, conductor; Nicole Colbert, choreographer and dancer; and Eve Tai, dancer.

Isthmus, August, 1995
Copyright 1995 Jess Anderson

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