Here and Now opens 2017 with a genial evening of new music

Thu Jan 05, 2017 at 1:20 pm
Joel Hoffman performed his "Nine PIeces" at the Here and Now Festival Wednesday night at Bargemusic.

Joel Hoffman performed his “Nine Pieces” at the Here and Now Festival Wednesday night at Bargemusic.

Bargemusic has to be the most genial concert hall in New York City. Jazz At Lincoln Center also has a beautiful view,  and others have equal levels of comfort and sound, but no place else rocks to the gentle motions of currents and ripples in the East River.

Bargemusic’s Here and Now Festivals of new music are likewise relaxed, good natured concerts that balance musical surprises with the close, conversational presence of musicians and composers. Wednesday night, a new Here and Now series opened the venues winter season with seven pieces of chamber music, six of the performances world premieres.

There’s no overriding theme to these concerts, other than newness, although one surprising feature of this week’s program is that two of the pieces used the bass trombone. David del Tredici brought David, Goliath, and Beyond, a duet for bass trombone and violin that closed the first half; David Taylor played his own Ode to Anton Suite, for bass trombone soloist with piano accompaniment, as the concert finale.

Del Tredici introduced his duet by calling the pair the “world’s worst combination of instruments,” and admitting that two weeks ago he had not yet begun the composition. That left one admiring both his facility and his chutzpah; the skill to write some strong music so quickly, and the nerve to put an unfinished piece before an audience.

David and Goliath went all the way from beginning to end, but there were substantial stretches of its twenty minute duration that smacked of a first draft; music that stated a workable idea then just let it sit there, without nuance or craft, until it made itself uninteresting. Important parts, like the finale, depended less on the composing and entirely on the skill, energy, and imagination of the performers—violinist Mark Peskanov and the composer’s nephew, Vincent Del Tredici, playing the trombone. But there was also some impressive thinking, especially the counterpoint between the two instruments in “Psalms (With Canons)” that hinted at greater possibilities.

Taylor’s piece had similar problems and shared the same good playing. Taylor has long been one of the finest bass trombone players in classical and jazz, and he was accompanied by talented pianist Ron Stabinsky.

Taylor explained his piece as an homage to Dvorak’s Humoresques. He also added the touch of naming John Garfield (née Julius Garfinkle) as one of the piece’s dedicatees. It was Garfield who starred as violinist Paul Boray in the movie Humoresque, in which the character plays Dvorak’s Humoresque Op. 101, No. 7.

Ode to Anton was overflowing with music, at times too much so. Taylor’s trombone lines tossed off myriad fragments, each going in a different direction. This was both stimulating and exhausting for the first two sections, but the final movement was coherent, sturdy, and enjoyable.

Cellist Julian Schwarz and pianist Marika Bournaki premiered Untether Me, from young Canadian composer Gavin Fraser. This was a narrative work, following what the composer described as the beginning and then dissolution of a love affair. Schwarz gave the music his usual expressive fervor, and the pithy modesty of the composing kept things fresh.

There were also fine examples of more absolute music that, in the words of composer Joel Hoffman, was about nothing more than itself. Hoffman played his own Nine Pieces for solo piano. The sole non-world premiere, this was also the most engrossing work of the concert.

Hoffman structured each short movement on a large-scale repeating pattern of sound and silence. The rigorous contrast between the two was fascinating to begin with, and there was a wide variety in the musical material as well, with ideas touching on Webern, Debussy, Chopin, and Beethoven. Hoffman’s pattern produced the sensation of variation without development, a kaleidoscope of phrases exploring varied intellectual and emotional terrain.

Dalit Warshaw was the other composer-pianist who appeared, opening the evening with her Farewells, her response to Chopin’s posthumous Trois Etudes. These had a charming and musical improvisational quality, with specific phrases balanced against playing that felt like a spontaneous fantasia. The last of the three separated the melody and harmony of Chopin’s waltz etude and created a clever new work.

Harold Meltzer’s 2 Preludes for solo violin gave Peskanov the chance to demonstrate his terrific playing. The first installment of what Meltzer said might come to total 48 pieces, these were extremely concise miniatures. The first alternated sliding pizzicatos with arco responses, while the second used some difficult double-stops to produce, at least via Peskanov, some remarkable bagpipe timbres. Fulfilling the Prelude concept, each stopped just short of opening up a new idea.

There was also impressive playing from violist Mark Holloway, who played David Leisner’s Vapors (the second movement was a premiere). Leisner noted Hoffman’s piano pieces, and explained the absolute nature of his own work, and also the images in his mind that shaped the pieces—especially the striking one of a heavy snowfall creating the illusion that snow is both falling and rising simultaneously.

Each movement opened simply and grew more complex. The first, “Falling,” created a haunting sensation of stillness, while the tough, fast music of “Floating” riveted the attention.

This program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

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