Music Review: Music meets Ellen Bryant Voigt
By Jim Lowe
MONTPELIER — What is it that makes us love new poetry and other literature yet run from contemporary classical music?
The Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble explored that question by bringing the two together in its program “Poetry & Music,” Friday at the Unitarian Church – and the resulting symbiosis proved deeply rewarding. (The program was repeated Saturday at Burlington’s Main Street Landing.)
It didn’t hurt that former Vermont Poet Laureate Ellen Bryant Voigt was the poet selected for this program by VCME Artistic Director Steven Klimowski, and that she read the poems from her new book, “Headwaters,” herself. Not only were Voigt’s poems so terribly human – funny, sad and joyful – richly evocative, seep yet entertaining, her simple, straightforward readings of them went straight to the heart.
Instead of setting the poems, five Vermont composers reacted to them – a poem was read and the music followed. Each but one was represented by two several-minute pieces and, in this palindrome-like program, the first composer was also the last, the second also the penultimate, and so on.
Michael Close, a Worcester cellist and music educator as well as composer, was the exception. His 8-minute work came at the center, following “Noble Dog.” His music was among the most tonal on the program, often warm and lyrical with pastoral moments, yet it had its bursts of drama.
Andrew Massey conducted members of the VCME — flutist Berta Frank, clarinetist Klimowski, violinist Letitia Quante, cellist Bonnie Thurber Klimowski and harpist Rebecca Kauffman – in a tight and very effective performance. (Percussionist Nicola Cannizzaro was featured in other works.) This concert was the VCME, an ensemble of professional Vermont instrumentalists dedicated to today’s music, at its best.
Massey, who conducts around the world, was also the first composer represented in the program. His first effort, after “A Slight Echo, Part 1,” was a light and charming mix of atonality and lyricism that required expert craftsmanship. His second, after “Part 2,” using the same techniques, proved hauntingly stark then warm and lyrical.
Füsun Köksal, the second composer, is a Turkish native and temporary Vermonter while teaches at Middlebury College covering for composer Peter Hamlin, on sabbatical for the year. Her first piece, after “Roof,” was complex, impressionist and driven; her second, after “Owl,” was beautifully programmatic with Frank’s expressive flute representing the intriguing bird.
Northfield’s Dennis Báthory-Kitsz, after “Moles,” challenged the bass clarinet and cello with witty repartee between the two in his atonal yet movie score-like romp. After “Chameleon,” the same two instruments were allowed to sing, gasp and cry.
Tom Cleary, best know as a jazz pianist and music director at Saint Michael’s Playhouse, followed “Bear” with a jazz-infused piece starring the bass clarinet in the title role (joined by flute, violin and percussion). “Fox” was followed by delightful jazz-imbued lyricism for violin, bass clarinet and percussion.
What made this concert particularly rewarding, as well as the high quality of the poetry and the music, was that their juxtaposition made focusing on each feel more natural. They complemented – rather than competed.
Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble
For information about the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble and its upcoming programs, go online to www.vcme.org.