Each year Bard College hosts a music program of student compositions. This year’s program, under artistic direction of Joan Tower and Blair McMillan, Music Alive!, was presented Sunday Afternoon February 22, at the Lázló Bitó Conservatory Building. Douglas Friedman led off the event with Gentle Ascent, a chamber piece in the manner of his teacher, George Tsontakis. Composed of micro units, the ascent did not sound unified while it featured piercing high-pitched sounds that could have been more pleasant. Andrés Martinez de Velasco’s Two Movements for String Quartet addressed writing and memory with tonal the soundscape of water rushing hither and thither with tonal variations, much influenced by the techniques of Joan Tower’s compositions, which often feature water motifs. Daniel Zlatkin’s Night Episodes brought five horns to explore a dreamlike landscape that splashed a thunderstorm, a dreamy chant, a touch of Burlesque humor, and concluded with a rather brief recapitulation that might have been improved by more climatic drive.
After a brief intermission, Tamzin Elliot presented with singers several “Ingaaric” songs, an imaginary sound-scape culture that she has invented under the influences of Georgian and Tibetan chant. Avoiding abstraction, Elliot effectively evokes mood and thematic drama in a riveting soundscape of appropriate tension and humor. One feels transported back to an exalted place before the development of speech.
Obadiah Wright’s Wood Flower, a piano and cello duet, was the most melodic, original, and deeply poetic piece of the afternoon; it was fluid with forest and water motifs that really went somewhere.—one felt one had departed and arrived at a specific destination in an incidental journey. After the concert in the parking lot, I briefly chatted about the concert with a lady who was quite thrilled with the thunderstorm in Wright’s composition, saying, “I shall never again hear a rainstorm without thinking of Obadiah’s music.” That was a compliment impossible to beat.
The finale was Nina Ryser’s Stitchings: Sound Collage for Five Duets. These were lively duets that featured surprising transitions so unexpectedly natural that one marveled. The duets were by turns serious, comic, meditative, and extremely surreal. A medley of influences appeared to get along in ways not ordinarily imaginable, including homage to John Cage, Polish folk music, French flute music, and yes, even Tamzin Elliot’s strange chants. With a dozen musicians smoothly passing an invisible but magical baton, the afternoon achieved a satisfactory climax for the full house at Bard College.