Polaris ends on confident note, after weaker improvisations

MUSIC REVIEW

February 09, 1993|By Robert Haskins

Polaris, Baltimore's newest 20th-century-music ensemble, in performance last night at the Baltimore Museum of Art, is one of many groups that seem always to be searching for ways to bring in new, and larger, audiences.

One imaginative solution to this perennial problem is Polaris' commitment to area charities -- the group donated part of the proceeds last night to the Fuel Fund of Central Maryland.

Another -- the opening improvisation by the ensemble members -- was not nearly so successful.

Improvisation is a great symbol for the musician's self-expression within a community, but it is also an extraordinarily difficult skill to perfect. For now, Polaris' musical results in this art are not strong enough. Perhaps the ensemble would do better to involve more of this area's composers in their programming. Surely, including the many gifted composers living here would be another way to build a sense of community among Baltimore's musicians.

Two other works formed the first half of the program.

The performance of Bartok's "Contrasts" -- by violinist Gregory Kuperstein, pianist Robin Kissinger and clarinetist Marguerite Baker-Nau -- was a little perfunctory in the first two movements, but exciting in the last.

Anne Boyd's "My Name is Tian," a delicately orchestrated song cycle featuring mezzo-soprano Kyle Engler, was a work of only limited interest. Ms. Engler's voice was excellent and could have carried the work very well, but she spent so much of her time looking at her music that she did not connect sufficiently with the audience.

The second half of the program was considerably stronger than the first, partly because of better music, but perhaps more significantly because of the confident, passionate performances these works received.

Joseph Castoldo's "Memento Mori" -- was dramatic, expansive and emotionally direct, but its purely musical arguments were equally persuasive. Ms. Kissinger, percussionist Barry Dove and guest artist Philip Myers -- principal horn player for the New York Philharmonic -- gave it a performance entirely worthy of its considerable merit.

Judith Lang Zaimont's "Hidden Heritage" (1987) is an excellent work that was equally well played. Dr. Zaimont's music is very eclectic, but its disparate elements fused with remarkable skill.

Indeed, listening to Dr. Zaimont's music, one often thinks that if a common musical language could exist in the late 20th century, it might sound like this.

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