UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance’s annual Composition Workshop

Under the direction of composer Mara Gibson, the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance‘s annual Composition Workshop gives aspiring composers the opportunity to hear new works and interact with guest composers and artists. This year’s featured guest was Chicago based violist Michael Hall, who has taught classes throughout the US, Europe and Asia. Hall actively records and premieres new music for viola, including the North American premiere of Chen Yi’s Viola Concerto, and Asian premieres of works by Elliott Carter, Shulamit Ran and Zhou Long. For the opening concert on Saturday, June 15, 2013, Hall was featured in the world premiere of Mara Gibson’s “Moments” for Clarinet, Viola and Piano. Thomas Aber, Clarinet and Robert Pherigo, piano completed the trio. The newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble also presented encore performances of some the works programmed in its just completed 20th Season.

Michael Hall and Mara Gibson

Michael Hall and Mara Gibson

Gibson’s epic trio in three “methods” further divided into eight movements (“moments”) is inspired by a quote from Confucius:

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

The piece starts with the viola and clarinet vaguely in unison. Yet after the short introduction, their tones bend and separate as they go their own way. The piano’s role is to comment and reflect on the other instruments musings while providing cohesion and framework. All three members have extensive, improvisatory solo “moments”. The clarinet’s is melodic, even jazz edged. The viola explores the woody, earthy textures of its strings through extensive pizzicato. The piano grandly concludes the solo “moments” with a climatic cadenza worthy of Henry Cowell using both the piano’s keys and the strings. The third “method”, experience, serves as a coda, with the trio finally playing as an integrated ensemble; indeed the most difficult method. The music here had a tinge of bitterness and resignation but a also a certain final confidence and consonance.

The enthusiastic, younger audience appreciated the skillfully crafted and colorful work. “Moments” never outstayed its welcome and despite the multiple divisions was never episodic, progressing with a tangible, satisfying organic flow that highlighted the connection to the Confucius quote.

One could not quibble at all about the committed performance by Hall, Aber and Pherigo. Hall’s tone was silky and shimmering, always precise and taut. Aber’s agile clarinet blended well with its string counterpart and Pherigo handled the demanding piano part with his usual skill and clarity.

newEar Contemporary Music Ensemble. Photo Credit: Scott Unrein

newEar Contemporary Music Ensemble – Photo by Scott Unrein

newEar ‘s selections were culled from their concerts “Strangely Familiar” and “Hijinks” concerts. Lee Hyla’s “We Speak Etruscan”, an amusing dialog for bass clarinet and baritone saxophone and Chong Kee Yong’s atmospheric “Metamorphosis 2 “Snow River” for flute and percussion received deserved second hearings. Robert Pherigo reprised Thomas Adès’ solo piano “Still Sorrowing”. Paul Rudy’s “Martian Chronicles”, for indeterminate instruments featuring Mark Southerland on saxophone and horns, came across more coherent and listenable than in its March premiere. The more conventional acoustics of the UMKC White Recital Hall allowed the audience to hear all of the instruments instead of just the soloist.

To close the week long Workshop, Michael Hall will again be the featured solo performer for the Closing Concert on June 21 at the Nelson Atkins Museum [Read Don’s review here, Ed.]. The fascinating program includes solo viola works by Mara Gibson, Elliott Carter, Kee Yong Chong, James Mobberly and Shulamit Ran among others.