San Antonio Mason/Hindman

Concerts highlight composers, innovations
By Mike Greenberg, San Antonio Express-News

A gratifying ratio of the recently hatched music presented at the national conference of the Society of Composers Inc., which was to wrap up Saturday in San Antonio, has balanced challenge and appeal.

A few notable pieces from the first two evening concerts:

Wednesday’s opening concert at Travis Park United Methodist Church was devoted to works integrating live instruments with electronic sound.

The best of these could be described as conservative in the highest sense — steeped in the tradition but not bound to it by a short leash. Innovation, after all, has always been crucial to the Western art-music tradition.

Charles Norman Mason’s “Entanglements” for violin (Karen Bentley Pollick) and cello (Dennis Parker) was a very energetic, rhythmically complex score, without a tonal center but cogently structured and full of contrapuntal interest. The live instruments were seamlessly integrated with electronically altered prerecorded sounds.

Kurt Stallman’s “For Bass and Tape” is actually for cello and tape, but its very live performer was the astonishingly gifted young cellist Victoria Bass. The cello part recalls the intensity and modal harmonies of Bartok, the tape offers supportive atmospherics and the match of ideas to structure yielded a piece that, at a mere five minutes, understayed its welcome.

Zack Browning’s “Network Slammer,” which uses the numerical magic square as a compositional model, showed that process-oriented music, a frequently dour obsession of the 1970s, can be great fun.

The live flutist (Chih-hsien Chien) spun intricate melodic lines against a banging computer part that alternated between a cockeyed robotic dance and more rhythmically supple and energetic material. The four-channel electronic sounds brought to mind the beloved Hammond B3, and they filled the space richly.

Thursday night offered an all-live concert in the recital hall of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Loop 1604 campus.

Joseph Koykkar’s “Musica per Due” for piano (Jessica Johnson) and percussion (Anthony di Sanza) leaned to fast, extended ostinato passages — with hints of boogie-woogie, R&B and Latin jazz — interrupted by free-wheeling breakouts. It was a bracing, well-made, beautifully colored piece, brilliantly played by the performers who commissioned it.

Charles Bestor’s “Of Times and Their Places” was a languid, serene cycle of five songs with a modern jazz sensibility in the piano part (Christine Debus) and sinuous vocal lines that were beautifully fitted to the texts and the voice — in this case the splendid soprano Linda Poetschke.

Arthur Gottschalk’s “Celtic Drumline” was like a marching band’s drum cadence on steroids — wonderfully varied, nicely structured and fun to hear and see. The eight members of the UTSA Percussion Ensemble, including director Sherry Rubins, gave it a taut and spirited reading.

Eric Lindsay’s “Coronary Dance of the Destructive Sense,” played by the UTSA Wind Ensemble under Robert Rustowicz, was the second-place winner in a student composers competition sponsored jointly by SCI and ASCAP.

Though it went on a bit too long and wanted a clearer dramatic shape, the piece revealed a distinctive and very promising voice — witty, bold and highly skilled in the handling of instrumental color and rhythmic complexity.

Copyright (c) 2006