vcme: the essence

VCME poster

The Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble‘s winter concert theme was “The Essence” featuring a program described as “new world music”, including two premieres.

The theme goes far beyond the surface meaning, as the program showcased not only new pieces written for ‘world music’ instruments including the traditional African djembe and the marimba, along with David Loeb’s serialized “Study in Asian Pipes” – the music’s international flavor was in fact the very embodiment of our ‘new world’ of borderless influences and communication. (Does anyone even remember a time now before our world was internationalized, when cooking ingredients like that delicious red Vietnamese hot sauce, Iranian pomegranate molasses, and 35 kinds of gourmet Tuscan pasta weren’t part of everday grocery store offerings?)

The first thing that struck me about the presentation was the flow of the music. Both how it was programmed, with Loeb’s delicate flute studies acting as preludes and interludes woven between the other works, and also in the cohesiveness with which the various instrumentations of the pieces melded.

Peter Matthews

Highlights included Peter Matthews’ snappy version of Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonte’s technically challenging showpiece, “Central Guitar”; flutist Laurel Maurer’s fluid versatility in her myriad roles playing piccolo, flute, and alto flute; and the ensemble work in – especially – the two premieres on the program, Derrik Jordan’s colorful “Astonishing Visions”, and Dennis Báthory-Kitsz’s earthy “Gié”.

I want to talk for a moment in particular about the rhythmic opening movement of Derrik Jordan’s “Astonishing Visions”. It’s a segment called “Berimbau Ghosts”. I listened to it before I read Jordan’s program notes. It began with Bonnie Thurber Klimowski rhythmically bowing her cello and creating an eerie, punctuated, note-bending effect. In the fact that a traditional cello bow was missing from the performance (Klimowski was instead using a conductor’s baton to emulate the wooden stick utilized in playing a Brazilian berimbau) it occurred to me I just might be hearing a musical metaphor for the ‘Ghosts’ of the disappearing Amazon hardwood forests which have been the historic source of the wood used to make violin and cello bows. (And clarinets and English horns and oboes too for that matter.) The piece certainly worked on that level of reference, making me consider a thought I’ve had from time to time- what will our world’s music sound like when the trees used to make instruments are gone?

Well it turns out, now that I’ve read Jordan’s notes, his intent with the piece speaks more to Brazil’s slave-owning history than to its deforested future. The berimbau was traditionally played by slaves to accompany a dance/martial art form called the Capoeira, the very method by which they were eventually able to overthrow their Colonial masters. That brings a whole new level of understanding to the sharply percussive feel of the “Berimbau Ghosts” movement.

It is a delight and real privilege to share a room with musicians of this caliber AND the composers of the works being performed. Three days ago Vermont’s governor declared 2011 the “Year of the Composer” in Vermont. The VCME assures that our state’s composers will keep more than busy creating new music in the coming year and well beyond.

Thanks to everyone involved in making this very special experience possible.

Today’s VCME concert was at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier, VT. It was the second of the two in the winter concert series, with the first happening last night at the Flynn Space in Burlington. Next concerts are April 1st and 3rd in Montpelier and Burlington, respectively. The theme for those two will be “A Touch of Wonder”. Season schedule details can be found here.

2/21/11 – Ed. note: Derrik Jordan was kind enough to offer a correction regarding the instrument with which Bonnie Klimowski struck her cello strings at the opening of “Berimbau Ghosts”. It was a conductor’s baton. That information has been incorporated into the original text of this review. Thank you Derrik!

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