Mark Gresham | 23 OCT 2023
In 2021, five chamber music ensembles from around the United States announced the creation of a new consortium aimed at increasing diversity in modern chamber music repertoire: Atlanta Chamber Players (Atlanta), Decoda (New York), Musiqa (Houston), Picosa (Chicago), and SOLI Chamber Ensemble (San Antonio). Known as the Cross-Country Chamber Consortium, the group awarded its 2022 Black, Latinx, and Indigenous Emerging Composer Commission to composer Kyle Rivera. The result was a new work for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano to be performed by each of the five Consortium members during their 2023/2024 seasons.
On Friday evening at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, the Atlanta Chamber Players presented the regional premiere of that six-movement work, Anaglyph: A Repository of Imagined Languages, performed by violinist Helen Hwaya Kim, clarinetist Jesse McCandless, cellist Brad Ritchie, and pianist Elizabeth Pridgen.
The piece immediately took me back to the 1970s and 80s, when the academic avant-garde ruled contemporary music. A certain fascination with extended techniques was one of the norms in academia at the time, and more edgy musical styles dominated.
Overall, Rivera’s music featured intense, often terse phrasing, with angular lines, and extended techniques across the board for the instruments. For two prominent examples, Ms. Pridgen played inside the piano directly on the strings as in the third movement, “Shmalaren,” and the multiphonics required from McCandless’ bass clarinet in the fifth, “Åvjageng.” (cf: Bruno Bartolozzi: New Sounds for Woodwind. 1967, Oxford University Press). Another frequent aspect from the 70s-80s era was that not all movements used all instruments in the quartet (e.g., the violin and cello duo that was the fourth movement, “To’xha.”)
In our age where much new music is post-minimalist and “new tonalism” in sentiment, Anaglyph can come across as fresh and exotic to the uninitiated. (As Prospero says with due sarcasm to Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “’Tis new to thee.”) Nevertheless, it is a well-crafted piece, and it does makes its best impression on the experienced listener when played with skill and attention, as it was by the musicians in Friday’s concert.
Kim and Pridgen returned to the stage for a different kind of modernism still influential during the early 1960s with John Corigliano’s Violin Sonata. Written in 1963, the Violin Sonata marked his first real success as a composer, winning first prize in the 1964 Spoleto Festival Competition for Creative Arts in Spoleto, Italy.
Although conservative, melodic, and somewhat romantic in conception, Corigliano’s Violin Sonata is imbued with twentieth-century rhythmic techniques, metric changes, and polytonal moments, leaning somewhat toward the styles of Copland and Bernstein yet with a distinctively personal voice.
It is an ideal piece to display Kim’s robust and unabashed playing, with melodic acrobatics and jazzy rhythms allowing her to dig in with gutsy bowing and bold, expressive range. It’s a piece she should program again soon and keep in her at-hand repertoire.
After intermission, violinist David Coucheron and violist Catherine Lynn joined Kim, Ritchie, and Pridgen for the Piano Quintet in F♯ minor, Op. 67, by Amy Beach.
The three-movement work began with a dark-hued “Adagio” introduction, leading to a pensive, passionately moody “Allegro moderato.” The “Adagio espressivo” middle movement simmered with emotional intensity. The finale, an explosive “Allegro agitato,” opened with a forceful forward motion followed by breathtaking mood shifts and dramatic climaxes.
It was a rather fine concert, a high degree of quality performance for which ACP is well known. Alas, the size of the audience was small, quite atypical for the ensemble.
One can only assume that a few factors were responsible for this: the Friday night concert date is unusual for ACP, and the location was new to them, meaning less familiarity for regular patrons. Further, the current location of the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Atlanta itself is itself new.
From 1966 through 2018, UUCA was located on Cliff Valley Way, at the northbound I-85 Access Road, where it had (at least early on, through the 1980s) been known as a rare space where chamber music concerts could occur, but even more for the chamber music played in its religious services, with an ever-present Steinway A in the sanctuary (though roughly subjected to that sanctuary’s extreme thermal mood-swings).
That pyramidal building with the circular arena-shaped sanctuary is no longer. A parking deck for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta arose in that spot after its demolition. But the congregation was without a home for several years, part of that due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UUCA’s new location opened for worship services only in September 2022, and the new sanctuary became the new home of its newly-rebuilt Steinway A, which seemed in top-grade condition, certainly compared to when it was in its previous domicile. (Word is that this sanctuary has better thermal stability, or at least there is now a willingness to keep the space well-tempered in terms of temperature and humidity for the instrument’s well-being.)
But the new UUCA sanctuary, from my perspective in Friday’s concert, also felt comparatively cloistered and “closed” in character without feeling “intimate” (in contrast with, say, Kellett Chapel at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, which feels spatially “open” for its size), though the Steinway A was a big plus, and the chancel’s sonically reflective surface (versus the old UUCA’s carpeted floor) seemed an asset for the strings. Thankfully, one also does not feel like they are looking down on the musicians as if in a coliseum. ■
The next series concert by the Atlanta Chamber Players will take place January 21, 2024 @ 3:00pm, at Ahavath Achim Synagogue.