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Aggie Birdsong Smee
Anne La Berge
Juliet Kiri Palmer
Dave & Sue Poitras
Robert D. Polansky
Linda Catlin Smith
P. Kellach Waddle
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Mad River Media
Play It Again Sam
Squash Valley Produce
By Jim Lowe
Times Argus Arts Editor
MONTPELIER -- For two days, the Capital City may well have been the world's cutting-edge of music.
Four churches were filled with exotic electronic equipment, as well as traditional acoustic instruments, on Saturday and Sunday, as some 100 composers from around the world showcased their newest and best.
It was the Kalvos and Damian Ought-One Festival, self-dubbed "the Woodstock of non-pop," and it would destroy just about anybody's preconceived notions about music.
Music, at the 38 concerts at Bethany, Unitarian, Trinity Methodist and Christ Episcopal churches, ranged from string quartets to computer-generated electronic music, with some mixing both traditional acoustic instruments and electronics. There was a one-man opera, a clarinetist answering bird calls, and even a tap-dancing flutist. Some was wonderful, some tedious, some exciting, but it was all real -- these were today's professional composers earnestly plying their trade.
The festival was the brainchild, indeed the creation, of Northfield composers Dennis Bathory-Kitsz and David Gunn, hosts of WGDR-FM's Saturday afternoon new music program, "Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar."
Despite the freedom of expression obviously espoused by this festival, the works that adhered to some sort of logical form or format proved much more attractive and memorable, whatever their style. The Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble, which inexplicably called itself Ensemble VCX for the festival, presented more traditional works.
Especially potent and moving was the latest version of the colorful and evocative Through the White Door, a song cycle based on poems of William Blake and sung by soprano Jill Hallett-Levis, written by the ensemble's violinist, Thomas L. Read. Another intriguing work presented by the VCME was the Minimalist but striking and sensual instrumental work, Lake Eden, by Mary Jane Leach, a Montpelier High School graduate now living and composing in New York City.
East Randolph composer Erik Nielsen's Quicksilver, premiered by Montpelier pianist Michael Arnowitt, though clearly modern in its tonality, proved traditionally dramatic, powerful and beautiful. The same can be said for the Introduction, Theme and Variations written by French-born Montpelier composer Louis Moyse in the '80s, and performed by the Vermont flute and piano duo, Karen Kevra and Paul Orgel.
The success of form was also displayed in some far less traditional works as well, notably in two fascinating pieces by New York composer Douglas Geers for violin and electronic processing. In his Enkidu, a world premiere, a virtuosic Romantic-style, almost tonal, violin solo is processed and reacted to by computer-generated electronics, while Turnstile did the same with a more disjointed violin style. The effect was fascinating and beautifully eerie, thanks much to the wonderfully expressive violin playing of Maja Cerar. (It is important to note that the only attachment to Cerar's violin was to the strings behind the bridge, not to the instrument itself -- a 1723 Amati instrument.)
Electronic violin, rather than the aforementioned amplified violin, was represented by Los Angeles violinist-composer Mary Lou Newmark. Actually it was a five-string violin, with the low C added, giving it the range of a viola, clear green plastic and exotic in appearance. The sound was much like a traditional violin, only colder and more penetrating. In her effective and attractive Prayer and Meditation, Newmark performed a Romanticized Baroque-style solo part, that was processed through a computer, much of it echoing. It sounded New Age but attractive and even fascinating.
Particularly interesting and often successful was the pairing of traditional acoustic instruments and electronics. Vermont composer Peggy Madden's Echoes of the MistWalker for solo bass clarinet, played by VCME Artistic Director Steve Klimowski, and electronic playback, proved to be rewarding chamber music. Jonathan Harvey's beautiful 1994 Tombeau de Messiaen, for solo piano, played by Jennifer Hymer of Germany's WireWorks, and tape would have been more effective if the piano hadn't been amplified. The piano part was in the style of 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen, and its amplification detracted from its contrast with the electronics.
Several of the performances were just well-played and exciting concerts, most notably a solo recital by avant-garde pianist Nurit Tilles. It wasn't just the music she played, though her own rags were wonderfully inventive, it was that her playing made the often difficult music easy to understand, indeed moving. In addition to more traditional works by Ravel, Honegger, Tansman and Ives, she proved particularly effective in Tom Pierson's 1985 broad and powerful Sonata and Paul Paccione's 1987 hauntingly beautiful Stations -- to Morton Feldman.
Some of the music was of interest largely due to its novelty. Intriguing was Reflect, by young Brazilian composer Elaine Thomazi Freitas. The composer performed electronically through a computer. Dancer Christina Towle simultaneously performed a seemingly formless series of dance steps, while the red in her costume triggered a TV camera, that fed the composer's computer. The result was intriguing, to say the least.
Another novel, and this time seemingly pointless act, was Paul Steenhuisen's Pomme de Terre for solo piccolo, followed by another by Karlheinz Stockhausen. New York flutist/piccolo player Margaret Lancaster, actually an excellent player, entered the stage in dance attire, played a little virtuoso ditty, spoke, played some more, spoke again, began dancing and writhing around the stage, etc., until she backed off stage. What began as intriguing, became funny, then boring, and finally, irritating.
Audiences, which mostly ranged from 30 to 50, were largely made up of festival participants, though quite a few Vermont music lovers were seen as well. Performances were virtually all of a high professional level, by both local and international artists.
Some of the music was interesting, some was beautiful, some was interesting and beautiful. Some of it was boring, some of it was boring and irritating. While some will hopefully find its way to oblivion, some is here to stay or a precursor of what is to come. But, most important, is that that it was done, and Bathory-Kitsz and Gunn are to be thanked sincerely for bringing this unique and rewarding experience to Vermont.