Thursday, June 17, 2004

Cacophony music to listeners' ears

Concert review

By John K. Toedtman
Enquirer contributor

The music of award winning composer Dr. Chen Yi plunged the audience in Werner Recital Hall into the avant-garde world of atonality, dissonance and "in your face" sounds Tuesday night during the fourth night of the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music's Music04 concert series of contemporary works.

The first composition, a quintet called "Feng," was performed expertly by CCM's students playing the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. The first movement opened with a haunting theme by the oboe and had an improvisatory, almost jazz-like mood. The second movement, a rondo, was contrapuntal with overlapping voices. While the first movement was pleasing to the ears, the rondo was shrill and dissonant.

"As Like a Raging Fire" was inspired by the terror attacks of 9-11 and was as violent as a piece of music could be. The pianist began with a huge cluster of notes in the bass range played with elbows. Violin and cello provided an ominous undercurrent while the flute and clarinet wailed a terrified scream. "As In a Dream" included two songs for soprano sung by Kirsten Schmotzer, who possesses a fine voice, and accompanied by violin and cello. The text comes from the ancient poetry of Li Qing-zhao of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). "Bright Moonlight" also featured piano accompaniment and was skillfully sung by Sarah Williams with text by the composer.

"Sound of the Five," another quintet, was totally atonal and extremely dissonant. The last movement dissolved into utter chaos with the five instruments sounding as if they were at war with each other. "Sparkle" added marimbas, piano and double bass to the mix. Shimmering sounds, long trills, and an almost violent flute part made the music, which bordered on being physically painful at times, sound like it was from outer space.

Chen Yi's music has great impact and uniqueness, but often sounds more western than Asian. After the concert, the sounds of Haydn's Surprise Symphony coming from the car radio were a balm to tired ears. Perhaps that is reason enough for the existence of Tuesday night's strenuous musical fare.

During his introduction to the concert, Joel Hoffman, artistic director of the concert series, announced that the composition department of CCM is embarking upon an exciting new cultural exchange with the Chinese Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Beginning in September, students and faculty from both schools will trade places for a productive exchange of musical and cultural ideas, which promises more exciting, and challenging, pieces to come.

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