Atlanta Chamber Players (violinist Helen Hwaya Kim, pianist Elizabeth Pridgen, violist Catherine Lynn, and cellist Brad Ritchie) perform in the Rapido! Take Seven, Finals Concert, April 14, 2024. (credit: Chris Helton)

“Rapido! Take Seven” finalists craft folk-inspired chamber marvels; grand prize winner chosen at competition concert

CONCERT REVIEW:
Atlanta Chamber Players
Rapido! Take Seven, Finals Concert”
April 14, 2024
Walter Hill Auditorium, High Museum of Art
Atlanta, GA – USA
Atlanta Chamber Players: Elizabeth Pridgen, piano; Helen Hwaya Kim, violin; Catherine Lynn, viola; Brad Ritchie, cello.
Ben MORRIS: Hallingdal Freylekhs
Nicky SOHN: Home on the Range
Alice HONG: Pop!
Dan COLEMAN: Vanishing Dances
Benedikt BRYDERN: The Cuckoo and Other Mountain Tales

Howard Wershil | 18 APR 2024

All composition competitions have rules. Sometimes they cater to a certain age group, sometimes a particular instrumentation, often a particular length, occasionally a desired style. Sometimes rules can evolve. The Rapido! competition, now in its seventh iteration, has taken the rules and applied some imagination and innovation to the invitation process.

Each time, the competition requires the contestant to create a short piece, sometimes four to six minutes, sometimes five to seven, and each time, the instrumentation differs within the range of performers available from the Atlanta Chamber Players, which, along with The Antinori Foundation, founded Rapido!® in 2009 to promote new chamber music compositions. Each time, a request is issued for entries utilizing a particular reference, and that reference can vary wildly from year to year, from COVID-19 to dance to theme and variations. Each time, the composer/contestant has only 14 days to complete the piece once the reference and instrumentation for the piece are revealed.

This year, the conditions were a five-to-seven-minute piece for piano quartet (piano, violin, viola, cello), containing a reference to folk music… again, to be composed in only 14 days. Talk about pressure!

Over 65 entries were received this year, narrowed down to 14 semi-finalists invited to compose, with only five composers making it to the finals.


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Ben Morris, a composer and jazz pianist whose work crosses genre boundaries, has worked with the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, the American Composers Orchestra, Playground Ensemble, and the NDR Band, and more.

Nicky Sohn, whose style is characterized by jazz-inspired, rhythmic themes, has received commissions and performances by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, ROCO, and the Bergamot Quartet, among others.

Alice Hong’s compositions have won multiple awards and have been performed and recorded by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Rolston String Quartet, and Cypress String Quartet, among many others.

Dan Coleman has received commissions and performances from the Dallas Symphony, the Honolulu Symphony, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Music from Angel Fire, to name a few, and remains active as composer, conductor, arranger, and orchestrator for other creative projects and musicians.

Benedikt Brydern’s music has been published by Mel Bay, Edition Kossack and Peer Music International, and has been performed by quite a few symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles worldwide, including The Atlanta Symphony.

Rapido! competition finalists, l-r: Dan Coleman, Nicky Sohn, Ben Morris, Alice Hong, and Benedikt Brydern. (composite image)

Rapido! competition finalists, l-r: Dan Coleman, Nicky Sohn, Ben Morris, Alice Hong, and Benedikt Brydern. (composite image)

Each finalist approached the challenge in their own distinctive fashion, providing unique takes on the reference requested.

Ben Morris (b. 1993) shared that his Ashkenazi Jewish father’s great-grandfather lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, home to a thriving Norwegian culture steeped in Norwegian-American folk music, and that his Norwegian mother’s grandfather from Norway had visited Brooklyn, a global center for jazz and Klezmer music.

According to Ben, the cross-cultural exposure opportunities had little effect on either ancestor. In contrast, Ben’s composition, Hallingdal Freylekhs, imagined a folk music fusion drawn from his father’s Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and his mother’s Norwegian cultural background. The result was a lyrical essay in a classical style that subtly shifted from themes reminiscent of Grieg- and Sibelius-flavored Norwegian-American folk dance to rhythms evoking Klezmer bands and Yiddishkeit at their height. The two worlds truly did unite in a marriage of styles that complemented each other joyously and expressed something greater than either could on its own. (Hallingdal: a major valley in southeastern Norway; Freylekhs: the Yiddish word for merriment or pleasures, also referring to a lively line or circle dance, as often encountered at Jewish weddings)


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Home on the Range by Nicky Sohn (b. 1992) took the familiar American folk tune and immersed it in a jazz-flavored mélange reminiscent of a style and vitality that made me wonder what George Gershwin’s music might have sounded like had he still been composing at 55 and beyond.

The harmonies were lush, and the thematic content was so deftly embedded in the music that it became the bones and sinew of the piece rather than its complexion. Perhaps a subsequent listen could reveal something more, but in this initial hearing I heard not one phrase overtly derived from the original “Home on the Range,” yet somehow felt its presence throughout the entire experience.

One of the marvelous details of the concert, facilitated by Hill Auditorium’s white plaster walls behind the stage, was that each performance was preceded by the airing of a videotape of the composer offering background information and explaining their approach to creating the piece. A common thread throughout the interviews was the value of a deadline to stimulate excellence and promote creativity. I heartily concur!

From Korean composer Nicky Sohn, a most entertaining additional reveal was that, as a child, her mother sang “Home on the Range” to her in Korean, leading her to believe that it was in fact a Korean folk song. The illusion might have remained for quite some time had her brother not informed her, at some point, that there are no buffalo in Korea.


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Pop! by Alice Hong used the unexpected combination of “Pop! Goes the Weasel” and a traditional Lakota Indian folk tune to create a piece that saw the popular American tune’s freneticism and the calm of the Lakota musical spirit surround, blend and transform each other in quite unexpected and pleasing ways. Beginning such a piece with a literal presentation of “Pop! Goes the Weasel” could have been considered ingenuous by some, but in this case, it proved to be a shrewd, clever mechanism effectively introducing and contrasting with the transformations and revelations to come. In her video interview, Alice Hong shared that one of her interests was the contrast of the speed of American corporate life with the interest in nature inherent in the Lakota Indian culture. “Pop!” takes us on a journey that allows each perspective to question the other and provide us with meaningful answers as well!

Dan Coleman (b. 1972) took a different approach. In Vanishing Dances, he imagines apparitions of an abandoned Western town conveying the sound and soul of American folk song through the filter of 19th-century classical music. The piece contained elements invoking eerie mists and otherworldly voices, dancing ghosts and historical reverence, creating a musical palette eliciting a lovely nostalgia for past experiences both fondly and frighteningly remembered and for a genre perhaps forgotten by some but still flowing in our bloodstreams, formidable yet undetected.

The Cuckoo and Other Mountain Tales by Benedikt Brydern (b. 1966) was perhaps the most cleanly, meticulously composed composition on the program, rich with nuance and detail, satisfyingly flowing from moment to moment, section to section, in well-thought-out form. The many melodies utilized in the piece might not have been familiar to most audience members, me included, but the piece’s textures and interactions served well to create the essence of a new, classically influenced folk music experience. This was also the most architecturally crafted piece on the program, admirably displaying the composer’s technical and creative skills.

Of course, none of the composers’ imagination and technique would be in such strong evidence were it not for the accomplished performance skills of the members of The Atlanta Chamber Players conveying their visions. Each of the performers participating here—Elizabeth Pridgen, piano; Helen Hwaya Kim, violin; Catherine Lynn, viola; and Brad Ritchie, cello—are highly-trained, lauded musicians whose enthusiasm for the Rapido! project shines brilliantly in their execution of each of the composers’ entries.

l-r: Elizabeth Pridgen, Helen Hwaya Kim, Catherine Lynn, and Brad Ritchie. (credit: Chris Helton)

l-r: Elizabeth Pridgen, Helen Hwaya Kim, Catherine Lynn, and Brad Ritchie. (credit: Chris Helton)

This year, the competition judges were Jennifer Higdon, Brian Nabors, Michael Gandolfi, and Gaetan Le Divelec.

Jennifer Higdon, a Pulitzer prize-winning composer, is familiar to Atlanta audiences through performances of her music by The Atlanta Symphony, and has received performances by The Cleveland Orchestra, The Pittsburgh Symphony, and many other symphony orchestras as well. One of her most popular works, “blue cathedral,” written in memory of her brother, has been performed by more than 400 orchestras around the world.

Composer Brian Nabors is a former winner of the Rapido! Competition and has enjoyed performances by The Minnesota Symphony, The ROCO Chamber Ensemble, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, cellist Angelique Montes, and The Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, to name only a few.

Distinguished educator/composer Michael Gandolfi, current chair of the composition department at The New England Conservatory of Music and coordinator for the Tanglewood Music Center’s composition department, writes music that often contains jazz and rock elements. In addition to his more serious works, he has written a significant amount of children’s music.

Gaetan Le Divelec has been Vice President of Artistic Planning for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra since July 2022. Prior to that, he most recently served as a director and artist manager at Askonas Holt, where he led a team of managers responsible for more than 30 world-class artists, also managing his own roster of conductors and instrumental soloists.

l-r: Atlanta Chamber Players’ Brad Ritchie, Catherine Lynn, Helen Hwaya Kim, Elizabeth Pridgen,; composers Dan Coleman, Ben Morris, Benedikt Brydern, Alice Hong; competition judges Michael Gandolfi, Jennifer Higdon, Brian Nabors, and Gaetan Le Divelec. Not pictured: composer Nicky Sohn. (credit: Chris Helton)

After the concert, the audience was invited to a 15-minute intermission while the judges deliberated. Given that the intermission lasted for much longer, the act of deciding must have been quite a daunting task!

While these three judges determined the winner, concert attendees were given the privilege of selecting an audience favorite via cell phone. A QR code took you to a screen that not only allowed you to vote but also displayed the results in real-time, another wonderful feature of an exciting concert event. As I availed myself of the opportunity, I could see clearly who the hands-down leader and ultimate winner of the audience favorite would be.

After a longer-than-anticipated intermission, the winners were finally announced.

Pop! by Alice Hong was the clear winner of the Audience Favorite. With that award came a $250 cash prize and a commission from the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra.

The Grand Prize, consisting of $3000, a 2-week residency at The Hambidge Center, the premiere of an expanded version of the piece by the Atlanta Chamber Players, and a commission from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for their’ 25-’26 season, was awarded to Houston-based composer Nicky Sohn for her jazz-influenced rhapsody “Home on the Range. Each of the four remaining finalists received a cash prize of $600.

And now we can heave a sigh of relief! But regardless of the judgments proffered today, in my mind’s ear, all the finalists were winners in this competition.

Rapido! Take Seven Finals was an exhilarating experience. I breathlessly await Rapido! Take Eight.

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About the author:
Howard Wershil is an Atlanta-based contemporary music composer interested in a wide variety of genres from classical to cinematic to new age to pop and rock and roll. You can find his music on Soundcloud and Bandcamp (howardwershil.bandcamp.com), and follow him on Facebook under Howard Wershil, Composer.

Read more by Howard Wershil.
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