Museum curators know what most classical music presenting groups do not: That when works of art are organized and displayed in an organized, pragmatic manner, one that offers context as viewers stroll through the galleries, there's an increased chance of guests experiencing that "a ha" moment when art makes sense.
If you've had the opportunity to walk alongside a curator as he or she prepares to open an exhibition, you know there's reason for how and where objects are installed. The color of the walls, typeface, information placards, flow, lighting — everything matters.
And yet classical music is stuck in a random formula within an established framework of timing — think overture, concerto, big bang piece — in which how the tunes tie together is unclear or isn't a concern at all. Ask Musiqa Houston artistic director and co-founder Anthony K. Brandt. Not long ago he wrote Nano Symphony, a hilarious and brilliant miniature piece that, in less than six minutes, thumbs its notes at traditional programming.
Such a modus operandi isn't relegated to just large ensembles. Chamber groups are guilty of arranging playbills to variety rather than to context.
The opening concert of Musiqa's 2012-13 season moved toward a more integrative, holistic approach to how, why and when music is presented. Titled "Where music, poetry and dance meet," the program expanded the forward-thinking nonprofit's efforts to encompass more art forms on the concert stage. Now, it considers the connections within and outside of each piece.
"The concert honored the late Jeremy Choate, who worked with Musiqa to append theatricality, drama and allure to what otherwise could be a traditional stage."
It's fitting to add light as well, as the concert honored Jeremy Choate, the lighting artist killed in a hit-and-run who worked with Musiqa to append theatricality, drama and allure to what otherwise could be a traditional stage.
As Musiqa proceeds into its 11th year, there's no question that this was a step in the right direction. Beyond the obvious inclusion of poetry, dance and music, the evening ventured into the subjects of translation and conversion between different aesthetics — in both artistic mediums and time periods.
Beginning with four movements of Lera Auerbach's Twenty-four Preludes for Violin and Piano (1999), written when the composer was 25 years old, the piece reinterprets J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier by infusing modern influences. The work opens with a pronounced reference to Bach's manipulation of chords en route to harmonic development, where an intensifying ostinato accompaniment supports a series of sequential fragments on the violin.
In the mostly arpeggiated Prelude No. 4 in E minor, the scherzo affect was dark — dare I say even Machiavellian? The virtuosic element of Bach's intention was preserved, albeit updated to adopt a grittier approach. If this were a rock concert, the audience would have been fist pumping. But alas, listeners' behavior was contained to a dead silent awe. A good thing for those of us who tuned into violinist Lisa Burrell's and pianist Tali Morgulis' vigorous, tireless execution.
The short Prelude No. 9 in E Major had Bartok-like sonorities in the folk treatment of plucked strings, the chord progressions from E major, D major to C major, and the strongly accentuated modal cadences. The Prelude No. 3 in G Major "Andante Misterioso," a gorgeous lilting lullaby, juxtaposed the eerie color of the violin's high tessitura col legno with with the warmth and rumbling of the lower octaves of the keyboard. The outcome was an allusion to a music box, one that would play prior to something terrifying happening in a b-rated horror film.
The Prelude No. 14 in E-flat Minor's angular, angry and gross temper tantrums — all very good qualities — closed this set.
"The premiere captivated longing, yearning, a desire for connection. Currier was mused by 19th century song cycles and wished to admix a slice of 21st century zeitgeist."
Pierre Jalbert's Secret Alchemy adds to this Shepherd School of Music composition faculty member's prolific output in Houston. Another then-and-now work, this oeuvre nods to the mystique of Medieval times with a harmonic language that's hypnotizing and undulating textures that breathe a vibe of enchantment.
Scored for violin, viola, cello and piano, at times all instruments are in unison in the same register, and at others, their aural colors meld in such a way that individual instruments are indistinguishable. Gregorian chant-like melodies were arranged so that they mimicked the reverberant qualities of a grand cathedral.
As the fourth movement concludes, marked "With great energy," relentless virtuosity gives life to something akin John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine, ending in a whooping, thumping and very satisfying honking low D.
A reading by writer Sarah Manguso in the first half of the concert allowed insight into how meaning is layered when text is set to music. When American composer Sebastian Currier crafted Deep-Sky Objects, a suite of 10 movements commissioned by Musiqa, it was in collaboration with Manguso, whose poetry was penned specifically for this work. Deep-Sky Objects added piano quintet, soprano plus pre-recorded computer sounds to Manguso's moving and emotional words, in which she used a bit of binary language as part of the structure.
With an evening sky projected onto the backdrop, one that appeared to voyage away into the unexplored cosmos, soprano Karol Bennett transported listeners to celestial destinations. Together with violinists Maureen Nelson and Burrell, violist James Dunham, cellist Lachezar Kostov, Morgulis, sound designer Chapman Welch and keyboard controller Benjamin Krause, what ensued was a timbral milieu most haven't experienced.
The premiere captivated longing, yearning, a desire for connection. Currier was mused by 19th century song cycles and wished to admix a slice of 21st century zeitgeist. Prior to each movement, a brief computer flourish announcement each chapter, followed by vastly different moods, sometimes driving, at other times soaring, floating, timeless.
Currier's Divided and Scatter-brained, movements from his QuartetSet, inspired Tina Bohnstedt to choreograph a work for Houston Ballet II. The second world premiere of the evening translated the titles of the movements in addition to the gestures implied by Currier's music. The contemporary ballet started and ended prior to lighting and music, a nod to the endless circularity of the human condition.
It was in her whimsical treatment of the individual versus the group where her vision surfaced, questioning societal conventions, everyday interactions and the inconclusivity, and sometimes ridiculousness, of life's codes of conduct.
Yes, all this in one concert.