By Scott MacClelland
THEY CALLED IT “TANGLE OF RAINBOWS,” a great title for an unwritten poem that paraphrased a movement from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, now applied to the summer edition of the Monterey County Composers’ Forum at Hidden Valley. It also referred to the quartet of clarinet, violin, cello and piano for which Messiaen composed his mystical masterpiece selected here to inspire six new works by local composers.
This unusual configuration—that in the 1970s likewise inspired the formation of the Tashi Quartet—might not have caught on but for the Messiaen. But caught on it did and brought to light some new pieces that deserve to be heard again—and will be as promised by MCCF founder Steve Ettinger when a CD of the concert will be produced in the immediate future.
Ettinger’s own A Lone Voice took full advantage of the resident ensemble of violinist David Dally, clarinetist Grant Rosen, cellist Margie Dally and pianist Leah Zumberge. In three short movements lasting six minutes, Ettinger, who teaches music at Hartnell College, used unisons and doubling among other idiomatic techniques between the clarinet and strings above the keyboard—omitted in the second movement—and ended with a klezmer-inflected final dance.
The afternoon began with a string of four lovely pieces of a gentle, pastoral character: Julie Roseman and Paula Kaiser’s “Fog” played on flute and guitar by the composers, George Peterson’s Blue Remembered Hills featuring soprano Kayleen Roussin Turner singing a wordless vocalise inspired by a poem from A Shropshire Lad by AE Housman, two movements for the quartet from Reflections Suite by Dale E Victorine and a piano prelude by Rick Yramategui. (Perhaps it was a coincidence that A Shropshire Lad inspired George Butterworth, the ‘father’ of English pastoral music, to compose an orchestral rhapsody by that name in the early 20th century.)
Then a firecracker abruptly pivoted the concert into a new direction with David Canright’s Away for the quartet. Up-tempo, with vivid call and response skittering among the instruments in the first half suddenly devolved into a slow-motion pointillistic minimalism. The two-minute intensity of the piece never flagged. A folksong inspired by the events of September 11, 2001, The Other Side of the Mountain, arranged from the guitar original for the quartet by Carleton Macy, was sung by its composer, Edward Moncrief and his wife Judi.
Douglas Ovens, a relative newcomer, made his second MCCF appearance here conducting a note-for-note arrangement for the quartet of a previously written xylophone piece called Cloudlike Clear. The complex, 9-minute piece opened with an animated flourish and held to its character with sparkle, high energy and focus. Yet his sleight of hand also made room for mood changes. Ovens has already made an indelible mark among his fellow composers.
Clarinetist Rosen and cellist Dally restored some of the pastoral charm heard earlier with Julie Roseman’s brief August Interlude, a conversation with call-and-response imitations. Dana Abbott described his clever G Ground with Blue Swing for clarinet and piano as “lyrical, waltz, strut, swing.” Abbott’s craft found a lofty balance with wit in this concentrated package.
To Carleton Macy all music is about dance. His Motions, for the quartet, consisted of two movements: Flowing and Driving. Close harmonies between the strings and a more independent clarinet strode to a meter of three, with twos thrown in for syncopations, over a walking bass on the piano in the first movement. The exhilarating second, powered by “wild horses,” was visceral, especially to the composer who could be seen rocking bodily to the very energy he had concocted. Here, all the musicians were fully engaged in what was certainly no easy challenge. At one point, the pianist was instructed to manually stop the strings ringing while punching one the keys to get a very percussive effect, like the lute stop on a harpsichord. Driving, yes for sure, but not without change-ups and other surprises.
Another MCCF concert of new music is planned for November.