Baltimore composers find voice, with varying effect

MUSIC REVIEW

June 17, 1993|By Robert Haskins | Robert Haskins,Contributing Writer

The new Baltimore Composers Coalition -- which presented its second concert this week at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels -- has given Baltimore's community of composers an important forum in which to present their work.

Of the 11 works at Tuesday night's concert, eight were for chorus, performed by an ensemble drawn from both the Josquin Choir of Baltimore and the composers themselves.

While a wide variety of styles were represented, many of the pieceswere in a conservative idiom, including a "Gloria" by Lorraine L. Whittlesey and the madrigal-inspired "The Cutty Wren" by Paul R. Schlitz Jr.

Works such as Kirk-Evan Billet's "Music with What We Would Consider" and Sarmad Brody's "Twenty-Third Psalm," with their more dissonant harmonies and intriguing concepts of form, seemed more compelling.

Sadly, the chorus -- despite the excellent performances of a few singers -- was far too tentative and under-rehearsed to persuade this listener.

Two pieces using computer technology were far more successful. Christopher Mandra's "The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (or Movements Toward the Edge)," for tape and video, imaginatively appropriates traditions of both experimental classical and progressive/alternative music.

Languorous, complex but euphonious vocal samples and occasional industrial-sounding percussion accompany closely

shot images of a male figure that move at a glacial pace. The result is hauntingly erotic, betraying the composer's flair for the theatrical.

By contrast, Neal Woodson -- a composer frequently associated with dance and theater -- was represented by the premiere of his purely instrumental "She Probably Misses the Dancing," for guitar and tape. The work continues the composer's interest in repetitive tonal music, but its wider harmonic palette and fascinating shifts between various tempos represent a significant new direction in his work and a much more sophisticated approach to repetitive music.

Guitarist Kevin Beyer's performance was good if a little too restrained at times, and it was occasionally difficult to hear him above the tape part.

Similarly, the Mandra work would have made an even greater impact had better playback equipment been used.

It seems, then, that the challenge for the Baltimore Composers Coalition is not to deliver good music, but rather to deliver performances of verve and technical polish. These composers -- and their audience -- deserve nothing less.

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