|Somei Satoh:||Birds in Warped Time II (1980)|
|Bun-Ching Lam:||QIN 2000 (1994)|
|Carl Stone:||Ruen Pair (1993)|
|Russell Platt:||Present Night (1996)|
|Paul Dresher:||Stretch (1995)|
|Present Music Ensemble|
The Milwaukee-based Present Music's Friday evening program at Music Hall offered five works that spanned the gamut from ho-hum to very exciting, approximately in that order. Birds in Warped Time II, a 1980 work by Somei Satoh, scored for violin and piano, sounded highly derivative of 1970 Keith Jarrett piano improvisation onto which a violin part occasionally echoing gagaku temple music had been grafted. But it was the best of the first three works, for both Bun-Ching Lam's QIN 2000 (1994) and Carl Stone's Ruen Pair (1993) very considerably overran in length the musical ideas they contained. Stone's score was derived by computer techniques from an unspecified 18-century original, which might have worked had not it resulted in an extremely rigid rhythmic basis and an apparent jumble of elements with no discernible organic relationship to one another. Lam's piece was from a textural point of view less chaotic. Its pointillistic episodes were its most interesting feature, I thought, but that aspect was not entrancing enough for work that lasted 14 minutes.
The second half of the program opened with Present Night (1996), by Russell Platt. It offered a lot of well thought out design, including a harmonic and thematic language clearly the composer's own, though echoes of the chamber-music style of Shostakovich were plainly to be heard. A quartet for flute, violin, clarinet and cello, it contained a strong lyrical sense, an intelligent narrative program (commissioned for a silver wedding anniversary, the composer's notes describe it as summertime Nachtmusik), and quite idiomatic writing for the instruments involved. Platt was on hand for the premiere of his work and the warm applause it evoked.
Paul Dresher's Stretch (1995) greatly extends and elaborates the techniques he was working on when I last heard him, several years ago: digital signal processing of amplified acoustic sound with his own creative hand on the technological tools in real time. Scored for the full Present Music Ensemble plus a couple guests (8-9 in all), the work was jammed-packed with interesting events, which in their slower manifestations amounted to a kind of ostinato and in their quicker ones were highly kinetic. The title derives from the idea of extending temporal and tonal events with delays and other filters Dresher controlled from the sound console. It worked very well, I think; the work is interesting throughout.
Among Present Music's greatest assets is the top-flight musical and technical prowess of its individual members, every one of them quite marvelous. It was a pity that fewer than 100 listeners were on hand for such excellence.
Isthmus, March, 1997
Copyright 1997 Jess Anderson