by Stephen Fox
The Ebb & Flow of modern music
Members of the Hawaii Symphony fill the McCoy Studio Theater with superb sounds on Sunday 1/18, in an ambitious program of modern music. Two gems grace the program: Benjamin Britten’s Phantasy Quartet and Jean Francaix’s Cor Anglais Quartet, both featuring Scott Janusch on oboe and English horn, respectively.
Hosted by Ebb and Flow Arts, the show features concertmaster Iggy Jang on violin, along with Helen Liu, violin, Ethan Pernela, viola, Joanna Morrison-Pernela, ‘cello, and Ebb and Flow’s own Robert Pollock on piano. Pollock founded the non-profit when he moved to Hawai‘i in the late 1990s, after first co-founding the New York Guild of Composers, then founding Composers Guild of New Jersey. Ebb and Flow’s concerts and festivals provide the state’s most consistent source of modern music by living composers, and indeed, the show includes Piano Quartet by Pollock, and String Quartet by Neil McKay, who Pollock reverently calls the “dean” of Hawai’i composers.
“McKay’s String Quartet is an award winning piece he wrote in 1955,” Pollock relates. “It’s a very strong piece in three movements, freely dissonant. The ensemble has done it before, at a concert we produced in Honolulu a year or so ago. That always makes it a great experience for everyone, players and audience.”
Pollock’s piece is a premier, new music written for the classic piano quartet ensemble of piano, violin, viola, and cello.
“The first movement is Invention, and the second is Passacaglia,” Pollock explains, “so I’m using old forms, but through a 21st century lens, filtered through the [musical] language at this point. It uses what I have discovered as a great source of inspiration, an eight factor chord that has implications for progression.”
Pollock traces the chord from Wagner’s “Tristan Chord,” from the opening of Tristan und Isolde, to Scriabin’s “Mystic Chord,” to Peter Schat’s 1970 invention of the Tone Clock. Pollock’s own chordal invention expands on this evolution, and forms the basis for the piece.
The other piece by a living composer is Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms #6, which won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1970. Using what was very new technology at the time, a pianist plays with a recorded track of synthesized sounds.
“It’s all about these synchronisms,” Pollock says, “connections of timbre, like the opening timed so that the electronic part enters with a crescendo and you have a blending of the electronic and piano sounds. The other synchronism part is the rhythms. The rhythms are extremely intricate, and even when the electronic sounds are not playing, the piano must keep that beat, that synchronization.”
For this performance, the music is also paired with a video by the multi-talented Peter Swanzy, who has worked with Ebb and Flow for several years. Swanzy has created a video experience synchronized with the electronic sounds.
The other two pieces are by notable 20th century composers, now passed, but influential. Britten wrote his Phantasy Quartet in 1932, at only 19 years old, but he had already gained an inventive voice and mastery of his instrumental palate. The piece is very tonal, compared to the serialist and dissonant trends of the time, ironically sounding more like the neo-Romanticism and minimalism of recent years.
“It has become a staple in the repertoire of any aspiring oboist,” Scott Janusch relates. “Britten was very gifted, and this was recognized early on, but it’s very technically challenging, and I suppose back in the day there weren’t many players who could negotiate it.”
The piece was submitted for a competition, the stipulation being that the compositions needed to draw inspiration from the “phanstasy” or fantasia style of 17th century England.
“The quartet is unique in its structure,” Pollock relates, “one movement, very beautifully arched. It begins very quietly and mysteriously and builds. The oboe is a special color, and he uses it to the full.”
“It starts with in a march tempo, then working through a very fast and imitative section, and then, interestingly, the oboe drops out for three or four minutes of a lovely trio, where the oboist can go and have a drink, I suppose,” Janusch chuckles. “Then comes a very dreamy part, where the oboe plays a high haunting set of tunes that sound improvisational. Then it becomes faster and faster until it ends with a march like where it started. It’s just a wonderful piece to work up, especially with this group.”
The show closes with Francaix’s Cor Anglais Quartet. For that piece, Janusch switches to English horn, the cor Anglais.
“Francaix was a very adept composer,” Pollock opines. “He took a conservative approach staying with tonality, not even as adventurous as Britten. The piece is very tuneful, very rhythmic, delightfully fluffy, almost bawdy, in that French way. A very appealing piece.”
This promises to be a marvelous show, with music from across the past 80 years, all filled with vitality and ready to tickle the ear. With these fine musicians, the upper echelon of our symphony, Maui is in for a sonic treat.
If you want to attend:
Ebb & Flow Ensemble, 1/18, 5:00 PM, $25
Pre-concert discussion 4PM.
Maui Arts and Cultural Center, McCoy Studio Theater
One Cameron Way, Kahului (808) 242-2787 http://www.mauiarts.org
JOIN us on MANAO Hana Hou Radio, 91.7FM.
Tony Walholm and Robert Pollock co-hosted our first four hour broadcast, “Point of Departure”. Sunday, January 11, 10AM – 2PM. We advance our January 18 shown reperting s below. We focus on the magnificent music of British composer, Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). “Tony’s corner” broadcasts an eclectic variety of music that Walholm feels Ebb & Flow should consider for future performance.
Mario Davidovsky – his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Synchronisms # 6″ for piano and electronic sounds, with special video by Peter Swanzy, the world premiere of Robert Pollock’s “Piano Quartet” and “String Quartet” by Hawaii’s “dean” of composers, Neil McKay. Check back for further details…….Also see: Maui Arts & Cultural Center
1) Benjamin Britten – Phantasy Quartet (complete)
SCENES FROM MEXICO, A COUPLE OF PHOTOS FROM NEW JERSEY
Ebb & Flow Arts, Inc. (E&FA) is a 501 (c) (3) non profit presenter of modern music and multi media events. It is the only such presenter in Hawai’i, and was founded in 1999, by composer/pianist Robert Pollock. It aims to build bridges between the arts.
The work of composers and artists is central for an enlightened culture. Ebb & Flow Arts enriches the soul of the community by educating the children and by presenting contemporary music, art and multi media on Maui, in Hawai’i, and around the world. Functioning in an international network, E&FA helps to provide a stage from which to inspire our culture to find new horizons.
Ebb & Flow CD! New release set for FALL 2014 – Solo and Chamber Music by Edward T. Cone – on the MIMM* label!
LONG-RANGE PLAN – *MAUI INSTITUTE for MODERN MUSIC (MIMM)
8/31/13 Music of the Spheres event photos Photos from the June 27th 2009 Multimedia Extravaganza Photos from Summer Music Hawaii 2009 Friday, Dec. 11, 2009, workshops at Kihei Elementary School. John Zangrando, workshop leader. Organized by Kihei Community Keiki Club for “furlough Fridays. For more photos, see our photo page.