Stars inspire Jean Ivey

February 18, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Jean Eichelberger Ivey does not pay heed to astrology, bu she is the sort of person whose life is governed by the stars.

That's why she lives near the Hayden Planetarium in New York ("It's very convenient," she says); that's why she went to New Zealand five years ago ("the southern hemisphere was the best place to see Halley's comet"); that's why she's going to Hawaii nextyear ("solar eclipses aren't exactly every day occurrences"); and that's why Ivey, a distinguished composer on the faculty of the Peabody Institute, has named her recent piece for solo cello and orchestra, "Voyager."

"I don't call it a concerto -- although it is sort of like a concerto," says Ivey of the piece that will be performed tonight by cellist Mihaly Virizlay, conductor David Zinman and the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in Friedberg Concert Hall. "The title is dear to me because when the first pictures from the first Voyager [spacecraft] were sent back, I stayed up until 6 a.m. watching them on TV. That both Voyagers are now in deep space inspired me. You might say that my music is about the eternal quest for more knowledge, with the cello as the Voyager and the orchestra as the celestial landscape."

Ivey, 67, is best known as a composer of electronic music, partly because she was, for several years, the head of Peabody's Electronic Music Studio and partly because she wrote one of the true classics in the genre -- 1965's "Pinball," which took the sounds of a pinball game, mixed them, changed their pitches and presented them in a six-minute sonata form of enduring wit and charm. Butthe music she seems to enjoy writing best employs the human voice, is decidedly lyrical and often has such feminist and/or astronomical titles as "Hera Hung from the Sky," "Solstice," "The Astronomer" and "Testament of Eve."

But it was one of her pieces without such titular associations, "Sea Change," which was performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1982, that led to the composition of "Voyager." Ivey has tailored her new piece specifically to the gifts of Virizlay, the BSO's principal cellist, because he "came up to me after 'Sea Change' and said, 'That was the best modern piece I've heard in a long time. When are you going to write something for solo

cello?'

"He's such a fabulous cellist -- there is literally nothing he cannot do," Ivey adds. "So I wanted to write a piece that would be sufficiently challenging for him -- and also beautiful."

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