Superb Start for
Oakland East Bay Symphony
World-premiere piece opens season
Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Things are looking good for the Oakland East Bay Symphony, which launched its new season in splendid fashion at the Paramount Theatre Friday night. The concert, led by music director Michael Morgan, included a superb world premiere, as well as fine showcases for the orchestra and chorus -- both of which rose expertly to the challenge. Even the administrative news was good, as board president Lloyd Silver began the evening by announcing that the orchestra was running in the black for the third consecutive year.
But the musical results are what count, and they were mostly heartening. Under Morgan's leadership, the orchestra played with a degree of zest and precision that have not always been evident in the past. Those qualities were most apparent in the opening selection, Mark Kilstofte's "Recurring Dreams: Variations for Orchestra." This turned out to be an exciting and beautiful score, full of rhythmic vitality and sonic invention.
Inspired by the composer's repeated dream of suddenly discovering unsuspected new rooms in his cramped student apartment, the score unfolds in an unbroken series of eight variations. These are framed by a matched pair of lullabies, all tinkly harp and bells. But the meat of the piece is in the central movements, as thematic material gets handed off from one crisply characterized section to the next. Kilstofte writes in an accessible but aggressive style, his Romantic-tinged harmonies undergirded by a tough, square-cut neominimalist rhythmic pulse. In Morgan's razor-sharp account, the result was consistently gripping, a musical invention that gives a listener plenty to hang on to while hinting at more. When the piece drew to a close after 15 minutes I was surprised and disappointed; all I wanted was to hear it again.
season off to dreamy start
Chris Salocks, Correspondent
The Oakland East Bay Symphony began its ninth season Friday night at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, with dignitaries including Sen. Barbara Boxer in attendance. The program included the typical mix of familiar and unusual music, including a world premiere. The new work, Mark Kilstofte's "Recurring Dreams: Variations for Orchestra," seems to be a significant addition to the orchestral repertoire. The work is tonal, based on a 16-note motive, which, as the composer mentioned in his pre-concert talk, "wedges out" from narrow intervals to successively wider ones.
The title refers to the composer's own dreams in which he imagines himself living in cramped quarters for several years. One day, he opens a door he has never seen before and discovers successively larger spaces to his living quarters. (Hence, the wedge shape of the motive which controls the music.) These larger quarters even include a room full of grand pianos.
The well-contrasted variations generate considerable rhythmic interest, with gratifying parts for the mallet percussion instruments. But the work's endearing qualities (strange to use the word "endearing" in describing a piece of new music!) arise in the final variation, subtitled "Slumber Song and Revelation." Here, Kilstofte evokes the tender sentiments of a lullaby with such distinction that it scarcely seems possible that such sentiments have all but disappeared from late 20th-century concert music. Conductor Michael Morgan led the orchestra in a performance that conveyed the music's considerable expressive potential.
soloists in great shape for OEBS opener
The Oakland East Bay Symphony's programs for the 1998 season carry the them of "Alive with Music!" -- an understatement it would appear from the opening concert Friday at the Paramount Theatre. Michael Morgan began his eighth season as music director of the orchestra conducting a vibrant program that began with a world premiere, American composer Mark Kilstofte's Recurring Dreams: Variations for Orchestra, followed by the Mahler song cycle Songs of a Wayfarer and a large-scale cantata by Vaughan Williams entitled Dona Nobis Pacem.
Kilstofte's Dreams music was noteworthy if only because it provoked heartfelt enthusiasm and absolutely no hostility whatsoever. Beyond that, it is an intriguing and well-developed piece of music that entices a listener with its broad design and enigmatic conclusion.
In a program note, Kilstofte, who teaches at Furman University in South Carolina and was present for Friday's premiere, indicated that his inspiration had been a recurring dream in which the open door of a cramped apartment led to larger and previously unimagined spaces beyond its threshold. In the music, Kilstofte's open door became a lullaby called "Canonic Berceuse" whose repetitive two-note motif is expanded on by all sections of the orchestra and subjected to a non-stop set of eight variations called "Recurrences" and ending in a "Slumber Song and Revelation."
What happened between the sweet mystery of the dream's initial napping and the restful slumber of the finale was quixotic and rambunctious. The music took headlong plunges and downward spills, arousing itself still farther with tortuous ascents where it was devoured at the top by raucous brass. At one point, one of the variations was a whimsical reminder of the insistent racket made by young children with mother's pots and pans. There was a wonderfully outrageous moment when the tuba (Craig Knox) took over, pushing aside all interference, as it were.
Equilibrium 21 (Albany) 65 minutes
Against all odds, new music, much of it challenging yet highly listenable, continues to pour out on CD, often played by performers who are themselves new, on pioneering lables. Whether these recordings are selling is anybody's guess, but for the discriminating music consumer, they constitute a bonanza. This release is one of the best. Pianist Derek Parsons and saxophonist Clifford Leaman came together as the Ambassador Duo in 1990. This is their first album, and they reveal themselves to be artists of technical brilliance and emotional commitment. The range of colors from both artists is impressive; the exceptionally rich recorded sound was achieved at Furman University's Daniel Recital Hall, obviously a superior venue.
The repertory is colorful and varied, from William Bolcom's theatrically expressionistic Lilithto John Anthony Lennon's richly melodic Distances Within Me,written in 1979 at the beginning of the neo-romantic wave that has yet to fully crest. The most chic work, Mark Kilstofte's Sonata, written in 1997 for the present performers, is a stream-of-consciousness collage of everything from Bach to pop, colored by prepared piano and slap-tongue effects. More sober and eloquently austere is the 1985 Duo Concertante by Leslie Bassett, a remarkably reliable composer who invariably conjures long, elegant lines, often for woodwinds, over sinuous piano chords and arpeggios. My favorite work here is the title piece by Ida Gotkovsky, which lives up to its billing. Swift, concise, full of mercurial ideas, it has "brilliance" aplenty. The witty, thoroughly tonal ending gives this exciting release a gratifying sense of closure.
strings deliver -- as usual
The premiere performance of Mark Kilstofte's "Quartette" was an event typical of what one expects from the Montclaire String Quartet -- fine music played sensitively and precisely. The work, played Thursday night at Scott Depot Christ Fellowship Church, shows a taut musical discourse and an encyclopedic exploration of string tone.
It can be difficult to become excited about first performances -- the potential for musical disaster is too great. But the Montclaire (Julie Fox Henson and Kathryn Langr, violins; Christine Vlajk, viola; Andrea Di Gregorio, cello) had clearly probed Kilstofte's intricate work, playing the piece with integrity and passion.
Kilstofte has studied with such luminaries as Leslie Bassett and William Bolcom. Like many composers from the University of Michigan (George Crumb is perhaps the most famous example) he uses musical motifs with a distinctive flair. There is a single motif that dominates the entire piece. He brings the musical fragment to your attention by highlighting it with different instrumental colors, for example, by having the players change the place where they bow their instruments. But sometimes he buries it in such a way that you're unaware of the motif until the moment has passed.
"Quartette" has a propulsive feel that only abates in the second movement. That movement is the heart of the work -- an elegy to the violist and conductor David O'Dell. The energy of the opening is replaced by a searching lament built around an ostinato (a repeated rhythmic idea) on the pitches A and G. The effect is powerful, giving the piece a sense of emotional devastation that rivals the elegy of John Corigliano's Clarinet Concerto. The searing viola solo, played eloquently by Vlajk, aptly completed the pathos.
music an intimate, interesting mix
Travis Rivers, Correspondent
Audiences know The Festival at Sandpoint best for its Mainstage series of outdoor concerts featuring the Spokane Symphony and popular attractions such as B.B. King and Kathy Mattea. Insiders know there is a more intimate side to the festival. At Schweitzer Mountain Resort this week, there have been two chamber music programs of striking vitality. The concerts featured faculty and student musicians from the festival's Schweitzer Institute of Music. High-quality performances make the trip up the mountain worthwhile.
The programs included an interesting mix of chamber music classics, and compositions by Schweitzer students. Sunday's concert featured moving performances of two string quartets, one old, one new. Haydn's Quartet, Op. 76, No. 5 received a beautiful reading by violinists Meredith Rodig and Grant Donallan, violist Kathryn Dey and cellist Leslie Nash. Their technical aplomb and musical responsiveness enabled them to fall in with Haydn's subtly shifting moods, from the easy-going elegance of the opening, through the dark eloquence of the slow movement and the witty bounce of the finale.
Equally moving was Mark Kilstofte's 1988 Quartette played with intense conviction by Brian Krinke, Jon Vriesacker, Eva Burmeister and Ken Woods. Like most modern string quartets, this one is filled with striking sound effects -- eerie whistles, scurrying figuration, startling pizzicato thumps. But Kilstofte integrates the effects into a highly expressive music.
A tinkle and a thump of dissonant chords caught and held the attention of the audience as the Montclaire String Quartet gave the award-winning string quartet of Mark Kilstofte its world premiere. The Scott Depot Christ Fellowship, with its acoustically vibrant auditorium, was the showcase for the music judged the best of 30 entries, including one from Germany, in a contest conducted by the Putnam County Museum in the Community.
Kilstofte, a teacher at Wayne State University in Detroit who is working on his doctorate in composition at the University of Michigan, entitles his music "Quartette," denoting its brevity. For the expectant audience, each of the four short movements was labeled in clear, concise English, and the four young women who comprise the resident string quartet of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra translated his notes into exciting music.
The opening movement energetically introduced several themes that gave way gently to the first violin whispering on a high string with infinite care, followed by the ensemble playing a muted dirge marked by graceful triplets. The composer says in his program notes that the music was written in memory of a conductor/violist friend. A hushed viola solo completes the movement. In a change of mood, the musicians laid aside their bows and plucked with a sense of playfulness the entire third movement and then relentlessly indulged in pursuit of elusive themes, ending with a slashing upbeat flourish.
Thomas Conlin, music director and conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, praised the sponsoring Museum in the Community and said the winning quartet was a welcome addition to the library of contemporary chamber music.
Edward C. McIrvine
On Tuesday, Feb. 12, the Furman University Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band put on an adventurous program consisting largely of well-chosen and well-delivered new music. Included were three movements of a band symphony entitled Lord of the Rings by Johan de Meij of the Netherlands, one movement of a concerto for percussion and wind ensemble by Lynn Glassock of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a fascinating recent work by Furman faculty member Mark Kilstofte entitled Ballistic Etude No. 3: Panic!
Kilstofte's output bears watching. The work on Tuesday made excellent use of the resources of the wind ensemble, effectively combining a full percussion section with winds to provide dramatic emphasis and transitions. [Pianist] Andrew Rogelberg and Mark Kilstofte: two western Carolina names to watch for the future of music.
Brass Quintet delivers world-class performance
R. Vance Jenkins, Contributing Writer
Unseasonably chilling temperatures didn't deter the Upstate's own Aurora Brass Quintet from delivering a musically compelling, vibrant performance at the Peace Center's Gunter Theatre Saturday night. The quintet opened the all-20th century program with Igor Stravinsky's brief prelude from "The Rake's Progress, " an exciting fanfare that prepared an eager audience for a varied program ranging from hymn arrangements to Broadway tunes.
Highlighting the evening's performance was the American premiere of Mark Kilstofte's "A Past Persistence," which was commissioned by the quintet for its recent performances at the Sixth International Festival of Brass in Verona, Italy. Kilstofte, an assistant professor of music and compositional studies at Furman University, was on hand to introduce his work.
From the tender and harmonious to the rhythmic rigors of the "Dance" sections, the quintet's flawless execution of Kilstofte's demanding composition was riveting. Allen Kaiser's tuba solo in the piece was particularly enjoyable.
In this brief and attractive setting of a Pentecost text by George Herbert, the lines are kept fluid and supple with meter changes that accomodate the text in a quasi-imitative texture. The texture allows the writing to build to an effective climax before the quiet ending. The carefully crafted writing will be a rewarding challenge for the average amateur ensemble.