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Liquid Landscapes

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Oct 1st, 2016

The Bardian Ensemble presented a program of journeys at the Lázló Z. Bitó Conservatory Building. Requiescat (1996) by George Tsontakis with Blair McMillen on piano and Marka Gustavsson on viola dramatized a hospital stay of a musical teacher, moving on to draw a memory portrait of the man and his music. The hesitant and sensitive viola dramatized approaching death, while in the second movement the piano supplied healing memories.  

Joan Tower introduced A Gift (2007) by joking that she had two kinds of compositions: burnished stars and delinquents (those pieces she continued to tinker with after completing). This piece was the latter, recently revised for this performance. The piece, commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, employed disguised variations on the tune “My Funny Valentine.”  With Laura Flax on clarinet, Marc Goldberg on bassoon, Julie Landsman on French horn, Tara Helen O’Connor on flute, and Blair McMillen on piano, they swept through four movements describing the dance of love, the last of which began to move my feet and was ecstatically memorable.

Blessing for the Road (2015) by Shulamit Ran (she taught at the University of Chicago for over forty years and her Symphony won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize) encapsulated the experience of anticipation before a journey. This mysterious music brimmed with hope and longing. The opening clarinet melody played by Laura Flax immediately riveted one’s attention as the other players (Erica Kiesewetter on violin, Raman Ramakrishnan on cello, and Blair McMillen on piano) wrapped their instruments around the clarinet. While fairly short, this piece freighted vibrant tension, burrowing deeply inward with excitement.

Seven Seascapes (2013) by Kevin Matthew Puts (pictured in the teaser photo; he is considered as one of the most important contemporary American composers ever since he won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his opera Silent Night) remains influenced by both Benjamin Britten and Edward Elgar. Each of the seven movements sport related poetic epigrams; in this way, the piece resembles Elgar’s six movement Sea Pictures which revolve around specific sea poems. Puts’ journey began with optimism, dramatized suspense of departure, sailed into the mystery of night voyage, beauty of dawn, then perils of storm, concluding with a most mellow mediation that I found quite satisfying. This longer piece and fuller journey from start to finish enjoyed the expertise of Erica Kiessewetter (violin), Marka Gustavsson (viola), Raman Ramakrishnan (cello), Julie Landsman (French horn), Tara Helen O’Connor (flute), Leigh Mesh (bass), and Blair McMillen (piano). We arrived home in unity and celebration. Listen to this String Quartet by Kevin Puts at the bottom.

On a night with a teasing, misty promise of rain amid serious drought, this was a most welcome voyage through liquid elements that highlighted trills and runs through liquid imagination.