The Classical Note: Searching For The New New

A good weekend for music in Dallas included, as one segment of new music chamber ensemble Voices of Change’s Sunday night concert at SMU’s Caruth Auditorium, the Southwest regional semifinals of the Rapido Composition Competition. Three not-yet-famous composers (the competition does not have an upper age limit, incidentally) were represented by short chamber works for oboe, violin, cello, and piano. Each work was required, by the competition rules, to include a dance-like section.

First up, Texan Ann K. Gebuhr’s Gigalambo evoked the gentle polytonality and genteel dissonance of Poulenc and Milhaud, enlivened by a taste for engaging counterpoint. Gebuhr drew her inspiration from the classical gigue form as well as from the Argentine folk dance malambo and the urban tango.

Arizonian Drew Worden’s equally succinct (and also tango-inspired) Itchy Bones fell into three very short movements, exercising a pleasant tension of resistance and surrender to the composer’s obvious inclination to lyricism.

Another Arizonian, Charles Zoll, presented Bailes encina del escritario de nuestra juventád (“Dance of the Students on the Desktop”—and we can’t help thinking a shorter title, say Bailes encina del escritario, would probably get the point across), which took the prize for the evening with an alternation of thick business and pensive reflection. Zoll’s work will represent the Southwest Region in the national finals in Atlanta. The national winner will have a chance to create an expanded version of the winning piece and to compose an orchestral work for the Atlanta Symphony.

The concert had opened with proof that old-fashioned tonality is still very much alive, in the form of Aaron David Miller’s Viernesque Chorale Fantasy on Lobe den Herren, performed by organist (and Rapido juror) Bradley Welch. The evening closed with a breathtaking rendition of one of the twentieth century’s musical masterpieces, Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Sixty years after its premiere in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp, this visionary work remains unassailable in its sheer quality and breadth of imagination. Clarinetist Paul Garner’s performance of the third movement, “Abyss of the Birds,” was especially gripping, as was violinist Maria Schleuning’s rendition of the closing passage, a musical moment that invites the listener to transcend the triviality and noise of the day-to-day world.

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Fort Worth’s Cliburn Foundation, meanwhile, does its part for living composers and new music next Saturday afternoon at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, with a concert by Derek Bermel, a composer and clarinetist known for the wide range of influences from which he draws as well as his expert advocacy of the works of other living composers.

Photo: Derek Bermel