Sunday, February 15, 2009

Listening to the Peabody Camerata -- Tommasini on Modern Music

A couple of related veins I'm following here: Last night I went to hear the Peabody Camerata, my second time attending one of their performances. (Of course, it's understood that membership in any Peabody student ensemble changes a little from year to year.) On last night's program, the Babbitt and Carter pieces represent a block of American composers I have not approached yet for listening -- although I seem to be reading about them all the time! Music theory aside, Elliott Carter's "Canon for 3" and Milton Babbitt's "All Set" were enjoyable listening that encouraged me to seek out more music by these composers.* The music theory, by the way, was eloquently explained in a manner friendly to the layman by the Camerata's conductor and Peabody faculty member, Gene Young. "Interbalances IV" by Barney Childs (1926-2000), the one unfamiliar name for me on the program, was the one piece that tried my patience. It was chance music, with a trumpet soloist selecting passages randomly from a "score" provided by Childs while a speaker (Gene Young here) read a literary passage.

The concert closed with Britten's Sinfonietta, Op. 1. As Young pointed out, Britten wrote this piece when he was 18, about the same age as last night's musicians. Next to the more challenging listening on the program, this piece sounded reactionary.

The ensembles varied from piece to piece, and the playing was excellent. The Camerata's concerts are free, an opportunity that should not be overlooked if you're interested in new music.

*Well, this Carter piece, written in homage to Stravinsky, was very short, under two minutes, so it might not be accurate to call it enough of a sample of the composer's work. After a first performance of it last night, Young gave an explanation of its workings with demonstrations by the three flutists, then they performed it a second time for us. It's written for three unspecified instruments, so besides moving on to other works by Carter, one could try to hear this one in different instrumental combinations.

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The other vein of interest? I was just looking at Ionarts' regular "In Brief" feature and saw the link to the current NY Times project in which Anthony Tommasini is fielding questions from readers. A first look shows a blog-like discussion with some points about modern music (among other issues of interest) relevant to last night's program and commentary at the Peabody. (I'm recalling Young's mention of how Babbitt dominated the field of music composition for many years. See the first question and answer in the following link.) Here is a link to the Tommasini discussion.