Violist Michael Hall Recital Closes UMKC Summer Composition Workshop

nelson-atkins-museum-logo-250wThe closing concert of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Summer Composition Workshop on June 21, 2013 was a memorable event and a fitting end to the contemporary music season in Kansas City. Renowned contemporary violist Michael Hall, a workshop guest artist, presented eight works, including a world premiere by workshop faculty composer James Mobberley and three others that were written for him. Three of the composers were present for the performance to a capacity crowd in the glowingly transparent Lens 2 hall of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

Vilolist Michael Hall at UMKC Summer Composition Workshop (photo credit: Stephen Butler)

Vilolist Michael Hall at UMKC Summer Composition Workshop (photo credit: Stephen Butler)

Temple Bell Still Ringing in my Heart (2002) by Chong Kee Yong began the program. As in other of his works, the instrumentalist is required to vocalize. In this case the vocal sounds and the viola mimic the deep reverberation of bells, both in sound and texture. This is a piece you feel in your bones and see in your mind as much as you hear. Brilliantly done.

Workshop director Mara Gibson‘s Canopy was inspired by “Ferment,” a sculpture installation by Roxy Paine at the Nelson Atkins Museum, and premiered by Hall at the unveiling ceremonies in April 2011. The work has become quite popular receiving nearly 17 performances. The outdoor sculpture is at once recognizable as a tree but also other worldly and desolate in its cold, hard metallic form. Gibson’s substantial 15 minute piece explores organic growth, periods of stasis and finally the sadness of a lone, barren tree.’s highest most delicate branches. The mixed media comments on and propels the soloist, alternately blending and contrasting, while providing a natural sound background. This was a most fascinating and colorful work, deserving of its many performances.

When Hall performed Elliott Carter’s Figment IV (2007 ) for the composer, Carter, with his legendary dry humor, cautioned him not to make too much of the piece. “It is, after all, just a figment…” And the short, ephemeral and fleeting work is just that. It was definitively performed.

Violist Michael Hall with composer Matthew Burtner's oversized score (photo credit: Stephen Butler)

Violist Michael Hall with composer Matthew Burtner’s oversized score (photo credit: Stephen Butler)

Alaskan born composer Matthew Burtner translates nature into music, combining instruments with natural sounds and rhythms. Wooden Dance in Fourteen Time, written for Michael Hall, explores the wooden physical composition of the viola and its dark, woody sound. The violist begins playing a wood block which is then taken up by the electronics, launching into a highly kinetic (as Hall described it) and virtuosic sound rhapsody. Just as the electronics and viola took off, some members of the audience near the windows were treated to a flock of birds flying by in a graceful upward formation. “Matthew (Burtner) would have loved it,” stated Mara Gibson, feeling, as others did, that it could not have been better staged.

A new music concert in Kansas City is not complete without a piece by UMKC professor James Mobberley on the program. And that is a good thing, as Mobberley’s music is strictly in the contemporary sound world yet is always infused with a sense of fine good humor. Given its world premiere this evening, Subject to Change Without Notice for solo viola is a prime example of Mobberley’s art. The viola skittered from pizzicato to arco, static to kinetic, loud to barely audible in a cascade of notes and sound. Likely as fun to play as it is to hear and a fitting conclusion to the full first half of the program.

Tigran Mansurian’s Lachrymae (1999), written for the fascinating combination of viola and soprano saxophone, was lyrically melismatic and tinged with the tears of resignation and bitterness. Jan Faidley’s soulful soprano sax blended easily with Hall’s equally expressive viola. Shulamit Ran’s Perfect Storm (2010) for solo viola was similarly lyrical but more energetic, serving as a fitting final work.

Violist Michael Hall and composer Paul Rudy at UMKC Summer Composers Workshop (photo credit: Stephen Butler)

Violist Michael Hall and composer Paul Rudy at UMKC Summer Composers Workshop (photo credit: Stephen Butler)

The second half’s major work was workshop faculty member Paul Rudy‘s At Rome Around Jovian Moons for Viola and Mixed Media (2011). Rudy, a University of Missouri-Kansas City professor, composed the work in Rome in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s demonstration of the telescope. At Rome… is a noisy, boisterous, busy and ultimately satisfying event. Space sounds: bleeps and static from distant stars, church sounds: the familiar Doxology (Praise God from whom all blessings flow), bells, and chants blended and surrounded the viola and live percussion. One simply can not describe how startlingly effective a dialog between a viola and a closely miked, amplified, rubbed and blown balloon can be! Hall’s viola was often just part of the texture but regularly surfaced to provide some melodic grounding in reality. With its engaging color, sense of timeless ritual, and the gifted presence of Hall on the viola, At Rome… was enthusiastically received by the audience.

Hall presented the capacity audience with an inspiring and satisfying encore, along with his closing kudos to the UMKC Summer Composition Workshop: “I can assure you that the future of music is in good hands with this generation.”