William Ford | 08 MAY 2019
OMAHA & LINCOLN, NB— Sometimes a musical event matches perfectly with the venue in which it is staged. The Omaha Chamber Music Society (OCMS) sponsored one of its Eko Nova series of contemporary chamber works at Kaneko in Omaha. The Kaneko Gallery is the brainchild of sculptor/artist Jun Kaneko, known internationally for his glass, ceramic, and canvas-based artwork. The Gallery is composed of three separated old warehouses that have been integrated into a large gallery and performing space.
The OCMS concert on April 22nd was held in a very large exhibition space, with a polished concrete floor and an arc-shaped, convex wooden ceiling. With the musicians centered in the middle of this large space, the sound was rich and precise, with the abundance of wood helping to tone down some echo from the concrete floors. The walls of the space are stark white and located throughout the space are large ceramic totems by Georgia-based artist Sunkoo Yuh.
The musicians for the evening were clarinetist John Klinghammer, cellist Maria Crosby, violinist Stirling Trent, percussionist Michael Compitello and harpist Katie Wychulis. Trent, Crosby, and Klinghammer are members of the Kansas City Symphony. All are talented musicians, and Mr. Trent has extraordinarily nimble fingers. Mr. Compitello is a first-rate marimba player.
The program included Trio for a Spry Clarinet, Weeping Cello and Ruminating Harp (2009, rev. 2010) by Gilad Cohen (b. 1980), Duo for violin and cello (1925) by Erwin Schulhoff (1894 – 1942) and And Legions Will Rise for violin, clarinet, and marimba (2001) by Kevin Puts (b. 1972).
Cohen describes his work as a mash-up of Jewish klezmer, impressionist, and rock music. Even though played on traditional instruments, there was no chance of missing any of the three, with percussive effects provided by the musicians striking their instruments, slapping their thighs, or striking the floor with their shoe heels. The first two sections of the work actually integrated the sounds of the diverse instrumentation quite well, although the final section was less successful in that regard.
The Schuloff Duo was a wonderful work that was either later romantic or early modern, depending on the movement being played. The first movement occasionally sounded like two different violin parts that had little relationship to each other; in fact, each part might have been a successful stand-alone solo piece. There were a few times when the violin and cello were not quite together, but never enough to be distracting.
Violinist Trent was virtuosic when he had to bow while simultaneously plucking the strings on the fingerboard. The second movement had increasing momentum with a bold ending, reminiscent a bit of Gypsy-like fiddling. Throughout, the Duo has wonderful lyricism, and some spine-tingling harmonics on both cello and violin. This is a great work written by a composer who died at age 48 of tuberculosis, while interred at the Wülzburg concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Puts’ 2001 And Legions… may have been the most well-known work on the program. It may be one of the most perfect of contemporary chamber pieces, in that the composer understands the sonic characteristic of each of the instruments so that they blended perfectly; each complemented the other, and none took sonic precedence. It is a rather short piece (about 17 minutes) that contains canon-like passages, with lyrical interludes that are again followed with a canon-like ending. This work has become an admired and often performed part of contemporary music programming, as it should. This was an outstanding performance of an outstanding work in an outstanding venue.
Congratulations to the OCMS, Kaneko, and the musicians for a thoroughly enjoyable concert.
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Keeping with the theme of “location, location, location,” the Lincoln Friends of Chamber Music sponsored an April 27th concert at Kimball Recital Hall, on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Kimball is an 850 seat hall, designed in the Brutalist style in 1969. Atlanta’s Symphony Hall has a similar style and was built during the same period, but Kimball has been updated and well-maintained; it also has very good acoustics, in contrast to its southern brethren.
The Nebraska Nonet was made up of nine faculty members from the UN-L’s Glenn Korff School of Music. Their first work was Louis Spohr’s 1813 Grand Nonetto. Spohr, a generally neglected composer, wrote music that was transitional from the classical to romantic periods. The Nonetto is full of cheerful melodies and contrasts, but given that nine musicians are playing, there is a certain imbalance created when four strings are paying with five wind instruments. The imbalance was made more apparent in this performance by a too loud French horn. The strings sounded thin and there were intonation issues through the performance.
Time and the River by Kurt Knecht was given its world premiere. This nine-section work was also written for a nonette ensemble. The music was accompanied by a gorgeous series of single frame and time-lapse photography documenting the Platte River Basin. It tells the story of how a drop of water in the continental divides becomes the Platte River as it journeys through Colorado and Nebraska. The video was particularly effective when documenting seasonal changes as well as the wildlife found along the river. Knecht’s music was not designed to be a soundtrack to the film, although the editors of the video match the mod and spirit of the music nicely. The music itself is pleasant and cordial; it does not challenge the ear with atonality or harshness. The Nebraska Nonet again had occasional difficulties with balance, intonation, and ensemble issues. The conductor was Tyler White.
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In a well-manicured mid-century modern neighborhood of Lincoln sits Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, itself a well-maintained mid-century building, full of the light colored wood that characterized the taste of the time. The vaulted wood ceiling provided a warm acoustical environment for The Lincoln Early Music Consort. This six-piece ensemble played on period instruments, including such rarities as the crumhorn (a double-reed instrument in the shape of the letter “J”); a sackbut (an early version of today’s slide trombone); and a hurdy gurdy (a stringed instrument that produces sound by a hand crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings).
The May 4th program consisted of mostly short pieces composed in the Renaissance period, with the one exception being a setting of Ave maris stella by late-Romantic period composer Edvard Grieg. For about half of the program, the Consort was joined by the vocal octet Dulces Voces, which had a remarkable blending of voices, a characteristic difficult to achieve if the singers lack a unified vision of the music. In addition, baritone Michael Tully, a member of the Consort, sang in three works. He had a clear and supple voice, and a pleasant English accent.
A highlight of the program was Stella splendens, a spirited work from the 14th century, featuring the Consort and singers. Driven by strong percussion, the music joyously extols the virtues of mountain people – from the royal to the peasant. The encore was a comedic take on the “Space Cantina” music from Star Wars, by contemporary film composer John Williams. Mr. Tully joined the Consort playing a rommel-pot (a jar covered with a diaphragm through which a rod is pulled). Not only was the resulting sound rather funny, but Mr. Tully mugging made his performance even more enjoyable. In all, this was a very fine concert in a convivial acoustic space on a beautiful spring evening. The Lincoln Early Music Consort is a fine ensemble that delivered a most entertaining program.
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Located In downtown Lincoln, on the campus of the University of Nebraska, the Lied Center for Performing Arts houses a 2400-seat auditorium. The acoustics in the hall are warm and focused, characteristics that were perfect for the final concert of Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra (LSO) on May 5th, under music director Edward Polochick.
The concert began some 45-minutes late due to a tornado warning. The first piece on the program was the world premiere of Brent Edstrom’s Prairies Songs: Remembering Antonia. This is a 15-section song cycle, including two musical interludes. The songs, sung by lyrical tenor Scott Miller, were based on the writings of Nebraska native Willa Cather. Violin solos were played by LSO concertmaster Anton Miller.
The music is firmly rooted in Americana and eschews dissonance in favor of warmth and lyrical melodies. One of the intermezzos was a piano solo that was wonderfully jazz-inspired and another was an orchestral waltz. The next-to-final section, titled “Enduring Love” is a gorgeously romantic love song. This was not cutting-edge music, but rather a strong, conservative piece, that is immediately understandable and accessible. It is worth hearing again.
Mr. Miller was an effective singer who remained in good voice throughout the 51-minute work. He has an amiable stage style without being distractingly informal. The LSO strings were particularly sweet in the lyrical passages and Miller was superb throughout.
The final work of the program was Respighi’s Pines of Rome. This musical equivalent of a Technicolor movie is a tour de force of orchestration that was supported by the Lied’s clear acoustics. The LSO performance was large and bold, with particularly fine performances by the clarinet, bassoon, and percussion. Maestro Polochick had the brass stand during the finale, which was a bit showy but nevertheless, thrilling. The LSO provided a grand performance and the Lied Center gave the LSO a warm acoustic environment in which to showcase its skills. ■