Voices of Change and Dallas Chamber Music Society present modern American works

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Two regional concerts this week explored an array of American musical styles in the 20th and 21st centuries, from jazz and folk idioms to minimalism. Each concert also included a late and rarely heard chamber work by a European composer born in the 19th century.

The performances have been presented by Voices of Change, the Dallas Modern Music Ensemble and the Dallas Chamber Music Society. I’ve heard both via live broadcasts, although DCMS has an in-person audience as well.

On Sunday, in the Caruth Auditorium of Southern Methodist University, Voices of Change served three pieces for small forces, as well as a large-scale work by Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnányi.

To this taste the highlight was the 20 minutes Collision studies for oboe solo, by Alyssa Morris. Morris is a professional oboist herself, so she understands the capabilities of her instrument.

French for “studies”, studies aim to challenge and improve the skills of a musician. This six-movement collection is an intense workout, with fast runs, quick jumps between registers, and a variety of contemporary techniques – from strident multiphonics (two or more notes played at a time) to fading pitch slides and pickups. floating tones.

These studies are also inspired by paintings by American artists. Jazz and impressionism combine in the first movement, after Mary Cassatt Summer time. In study inspired by Native American Margaret BradshawMy world is not flat, a playful Pueblo dance song comes up every now and then.

Oboist Erin Hannigan nailed the scoring difficulties. Its tone was full bodied throughout its range and the melodies sang with a soft vibrato. She performed the elegy of the fourth movement, “Rainbow”, from a painting by Alma Thomas, with such tenderness that it seemed to evoke forgotten memories.

Representing minimalism was that of Caleb Guevara Cyclical dreamers, for violin and cello. An undergraduate student at Stephen F. Austin University, Guevara won the Voices Young Composers Competition.

This six-minute piece features repeated and accented patterns, but doesn’t expand much beyond this idea. Violinist (and director of Voices) Maria Schleuning and cellist Jolyon Pegis gave a tight and engaged performance.

For piccolo, percussion and harp, the four movements of Hannah Lash Folk songs provided light and intimate entertainment for approximately 10 minutes.

After the doumbek – a Middle Eastern hand drum – hits a syncopated groove in the first movement, the piccolo launches a traditional melody, while the harp scratches lush harmonies. In the last movement, the descending scales passed between the harp and the piccolo fit together like the teeth of a zipper. Flautist Helen Blackburn, percussionist Drew Lang, and harpist Emily Levin provided a compelling narrative of the piece.

Flautist Helen Blackburn, percussionist Drew Lang and harpist Emily Levin perform at the Voices of Change concert at SMU’s Caruth Auditorium on March 7. (Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

Dohnányi’s Sextette in C for piano, clarinet, horn, violin, viola and cello also calls for an unusual mix of performers. The piece is rooted in German romanticism, particularly that of Brahms, although the playful finale draws its influence from 1930s jazz.

With violinist Schleuning and cellist Pegis, pianist Liudmila Georgievskaya, clarinetist Andrew Sandwick, horn player Kevin Haseltine and violist David Sywak brought a sincere lyricism to the melodic passages, an agile grace to the scherzando reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s. Dream of a summer night and great drama in declarative statements. But the intonation of the strings was sometimes shifted, and the patterns thrown between the instruments were not always at the same volume.

Presented by the Dallas Chamber Music Society, the Viano String Quartet gave a fine performance Monday at Lover’s Lane United Methodist Church. Although the ensemble was formed only six years ago at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, their confidence and cohesion made it seem like they had performed together all their lives.

Violinists Lucy Wang and Hao Zhou, who played first alternately, violist Aiden Kane and cellist Tate Zawadiuk seemed unable to play even a single wrong note. They shaded their lines with elegantly restrained vibrato and presented a powerful group sound – anchored by the robust depths of the cello and accumulating through the velvety viola to the soft, focused violins.

Created in 2020, Caroline Shaw’s Evergreen was inspired by a walk in the forest. The 17-minute piece is, she says, her “particular tree offering in this forest.” A 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for music, Shaw is also a violinist and singer.

Called “Moss,” the first movement makes lots of bright and ethereal chords, with soft figures glistening high. Trampoline-like bow effects create rippling sound waves. In the second movement, “Stem”, dissonances gradually emerge from the legato textures.

Opening with scattered pinches in the violins, the third movement, “Water”, evokes the fall of rain droplets whose speed and intensity vary. The last movement, “Roots”, is based on rolling cello chords on which the repeated notes of the violins project rays of sunlight.

Violinists Hao Zhou and Lucy Wang perform with the Viano String Quartet at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas on March 8.
Violinists Hao Zhou and Lucy Wang perform with the Viano String Quartet at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas on March 8.

(Lawrence Jenkins)

It is rare to hear a contemporary composition twice in a concert season, let alone three times. But that was the case for this listener, when Viano gave a convincing interpretation of Jessie Montgomery’s work. To scratch. Inspired by American folk idioms, the piece also uses elements of minimalism.

It all started with the violist holding his instrument like a ukulele and playing the most relaxed melody. Later sections crackled with youthful vigor and spontaneity.

The ensemble then moved effortlessly into the introspective second movement of Florence Price’s String Quartet in G major. With its singing melodies evoking the spiritualities and harmonies of late Romanticism, the movement recalls the music of Dvořák.

Dvořák composed his String Quartet No. 13 in G major on his return to Bohemia after a three-year stay in America. Influences from his homeland include evocations of bird songs and folk dancing, although the pure energy of the piece may reflect his time in New York City. The work demands virtuosity from all parts, but also poetic play, and the musicians have once again delivered the goods.


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