“Momentum 21 – New Music for a New Century” = Works of JAMES AIKMAN, DEREK BERME; FOUMAI, THEOFANIDIS – Albany

by | Aug 24, 2015 | Classical CD Reviews

“Momentum 21 – New Music for a New Century” = JAMES AIKMAN: Triptych: Musical Momentum; DEREK BERMEL: Ritornello: Concerto Grosso for Electric Guitar and String Orchestra; MICHAEL-THOMAS FOUMAI: Lady Dark; CHRISTOPHER THEOFANIDIS: Concerto for Bassoon & Chamber Orchestra – Derek Johnson, elec. guitar/Martin Kuuskmann, bassoon /Indianapolis Ch. Orch. /Kirk Trevor – Albany TROY1564, 69:31, (5/01/15) ***1/2:

The ‘new century’ is actually well under way here but we applaud this set of four very interesting and diverse new works that also shows a trend. The ‘trend’ with younger American composers and into the twenty-first century is that – in many ways – there is no ‘trend.’ If the twentieth century was characterized by a tendency for composers to write in fairly well defined ‘schools’ which the musicologists love giving names to; then nearly everything I have heard from the ‘new’ names over the past ten to twenty years defies characterization.

We have elements of ‘serialism’, ‘impressionism’, ‘dynamism’ and – of course – ‘minimalism’ in the palate of the ‘next wave’ but there really is not a trend; and I find that refreshing. These four works illustrate this quite well.

To start with, I have heard at least a few works by every composer here except for Michael-Thomas Foumai. Also the youngest voice represented here, Foumai studied with Christopher Rouse, Augusta Read Thomas, Michael Daugherty, Steven Stucky and others who comprise the beginnings of this “new eclecticism” (in my terms) nearly thirty years ago. Foumai’s Lady Dark is essentially a musical portrait of the ‘dark lady’ of Shakespeare sonnets of the same title and represents lust, desire and forbidden love. This is a moody and engaging work that captures drama and sensuality quite well.

James Aikman’s Triptych: Musical Momentum is a three- movement work that in some ways gives admiration to the field of particle physics and the composer’s friend physicist Gordon Kane. There is a really nice propulsion to this whole work whose three short movements connect very well into a buoyant and exciting work with touches of pattern-music using cells in each movement that resurface throughout. In some ways, I found this piece reminiscent of the work of Michael Dougherty; not a bad thing!

I have heard several works by clarinetist and composer Derek Bermel and am a big fan. His music always has an exciting and ‘contemporary’ sound that is readily influenced by the worlds of jazz or rock. Such is the case here. Ritornello is inspired by Bermel’s love of the rock band King Crimson and master guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew (whose work I do know but I am positive I have never had cause to mention them in a ‘classical’ music review before!) Needless to say, the work is essentially a showcase for guitar; in this case, the highly skilled Derek Johnson (while the piece was actually written for Netherlander virtuoso Wiek Hijmans) The use of the Baroque form of ‘ritornello’ purposefully allows much improvisation for the guitarist in between sections of whole orchestra; as in a true concerto grosso. This is another very interesting work; my favorite in this collection, in fact.

Christopher Theofanidis is, perhaps, the most “established” composer in this set having built a name for himself with some large scale orchestral works, many of which are recorded and promoted by Bob Spano and the Atlanta Symphony (such as the ‘must hear’ The Here and Now for chorus and orchestra). There are just not that many new bassoon concertos; in part because it is a hard instrument to write for without the collaboration of a skilled player and orchestrations are tricky because it is an instrument whose unique but wispy timbre can get buried easily. Theofanidis’ contribution is a very fine addition to the repertoire. It was written specifically for the present performer and friend of the composer, Martin Kuuskmann, who is a really amazing player. I was particularly impressed with the second movement which takes its cue from Greek Orthodox music; a nod to Theofanadis’ heritage perhaps.  I think this piece is a very good showpiece that bassoonists would want to try.

One more reason to be impressed by this collection is the work of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra; a very fine ensemble indeed and that of their music director, Kirk Trevor, who has done a large number of contemporary American works with European orchestras for Naxos, Navona and Albany; among others. He is well-attuned to the demands of music like this and clearly a strong proponent.

All four of these pieces are a really fine listening experience and showcase the skills of the composers quite well. The sound here is excellent and the performances are top notch. The twenty-first century may – or may not – develop one of those ‘buzz term’ “schools” that musicologists and theoreticians are so fond of. It matters not, for each of these writers is a skilled and important contributor worth getting to know.

—Daniel Coombs

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