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The Sound of Talent at Bard

by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Mar 13th, 2016

Every year Bard College performs Music Alive! This annual recital administered by Joan Towers and Blair McMillan features only work by living composers performed by Bard students. This year Bard students did not only perform all work, but Bard students composed all pieces. Such is the depth of talent in the current Bard music program.

Interval Music 1 by Christopher Gunnell pit Jonathan Collazo on vibraphone against Petra Elek on marimba. This cerebral, mathematical work ran at different octaves on the two instruments as they evoked suspense and wonder. As a warm-up offering, this was more pleasurable and lively than I could possibly have imagined.

Matthew Woodard’s Passacaglia, for piano trio followed. Beginning as a dialogue between Yezu Woo on violin and Rylan Gajek-Leonard on cello, the composition explored the mystery of mortality as it meditated on the passing of a former teacher. The piano played by Tomoki Park engaged each instrument, then dialogued with both instruments, then the piano presented the last “words” of a teacher disappearing into the void. A marvelous memorial piece (that was the best composition entry of the event) was placed up front because one dares not conclude a concert with such somber theme. Woodard certainly has a future in the world of composition; it may be a prodigious future.

Henry Birdsey’s A Field Scattered featured Woodard on violin, Caitlin Beare on bass clarinet, Chris Beroes-Haigis on cello, and Telo Hoy on vibraphone. At first it seemed like all instruments were going their own way, but they all arrived at unforeseen resolution that was most satisfactory. Concept and execution blended with unexpected elegance in this highly original work.

Corey Chang’s Planet of the Apes—A Backstory featured six instruments conducted by Joan Towers. This piece mimicked the three movements of the film by that name which dramatized nuclear destruction, its aftermath, and the re-growth of civilization by inquisitive monkeys.  While I was not taken by the music itself, the work illustrated that Chang has the hang of what it takes to ably orchestrate many instruments in an integral manner. Chang definitely has a future as symphonic composer or arranger. I found the music for clarinet and violin to be especially strong.

Tamzin Elliots’ Loves: A Study in Rooms featured David Nagy on bassoon with a trio of percussionists. In the words of Elliot this portrayed a romance, “a love story with a frisbie, the sun, and a spring day”; it was unusual in that the music expressed an endearing idyllic and adoring phallic perspective from the point of view of a woman. This composition was robust and shockingly charming.

Daniel Meyer-O’Keefe’s Little Noise and Big Noise was ironic in conception. Jesse Goldberg on piano pounded and thrashed the piano until the notes of the piano no longer communicated meaning, then little lyrical notes sounded. These little sensitive notes demolished the grand architecture of the loud aggressive clusters and left the audience with meaningful romantic elegy.

Daniel Castellanos’s Kinetic/Potential, for string quartet set up a meditative dialectic between the fallow periods of artistic silence and the that sudden Springlike burst inspired creativity that afflict artists: that rhythm between unproductive moments and manic creative activity. This piece had a glorious crescendo and a most satisfactory finale. Castellanos apologized for having the musicians work through so many rehearsals, but the result was superlative, and I would love to hear this piece again sometime. 

The László Z. Bitó Hall was filled to capacity. The first, second, and last number played were première performances.  There was not a moment of boredom in the program. This concert served notice that the Bard College students generate a vitality, generosity, and creativity beyond expectation.