Composer Dylan Mattingly once said, “Part of the excitement to me of hearing something completely new is that you have no idea what it’s going to be. Nothing has proved it not the best thing in the world.” Mattingly’s statement has become my mantra when hearing brand new works, and I’ve discovered many a “best thing” as a result.
World premieres abounded at the New Juilliard Ensemble concert April 1, 2014, including works by the two winners of the 2013 NJE commission competition: Michael Ippolito (b. 1985, Tampa, FLA) and Molly Joyce (b. 1992, Pittsburgh, PA). What I write below are my first impressions, in a few short strokes, based on a single listen to each piece. The descriptions, therefore, constitute only the beginning of a journey of discovery into each of these works.
Up first was Ippolito’s A Feast of Fools, a three-movement work “inspired by medieval artifacts of foolishness.” Ippolito displayed a fine sense of orchestration, and the taut energy of the first movement (Marginalia) and lyricism of the second (Serenade, based on Gilles Binchois’ Triste plaisir), set up resonating contrasts in search of a fitting close. The last movement (Introduction and Nasentanz), however, declined its anticipated role: full of imaginative details, it danced off on its own.
It has been said of Ukrainian composer Valentin Bibik (1940-2003) that he “added something grand to the total beauty of the world, something which we all have faith will last.” Until the NJE performance, Bibik’s Cello Concerto No. 2 had not been performed “outside of central Europe, Ukraine, and Israel.” In the darkly atmospheric concerto, reminiscent of works by Sofia Gubaidulina, orchestral washes accompanied and deserted, in turns, the cello’s mournful keening. Cellist Khari Joyner’s superbly focused performance reached deeply into the work’s troubled and troubling soul.
For his Percussion Concerto, composed for the NJE, Robin de Raaff (b. 1968, The Netherlands) “decided to emphasize pitch-based percussion, giving the solo role to the marimba.” Dissonant night sounds abounded, volleying between the ensemble and a battery of percussion with the marimba at its ghostly heart. Lost in a dark wood, as in Caroline Bergvall’s poem Via, the music spiraled toward doom and circled back again without relief. Sae Hashimoto was the brilliantly balletic percussionist.
The concert closed with Molly Joyce’s Immovability. With a single muted drum, Joyce deftly established an enticing pulse. In elegantly controlled fits and starts, the instrumental texture increased and subsided on a subtle wire of tension, with bright lines of incipient melody pushing up from beneath. On equal measures of hope and hesitation, the music reached, yearning, toward the light—a fitting close to a fascinating concert. With Joel Sachs conducting, the ensemble’s performance was excellent throughout.
Postscript: Part of the delight of the concert was to have a chance to offer our compliments to Molly Joyce and meet her parents, as well as to meet harpist Emily Hoile. Hoile, for whom Joyce wrote Rain in My Head, has been awarded a place with the Berlin Philharmonic Academy and will head there this coming fall. I was also pleased to be able to meet up with bassoonist Dávid Adam Nagy at intermission. Nagy, a Bard Conservatory graduate and winner of its concerto competition, is now in Juilliard’s graduate program. Nagy pulled from his satchel one of the pieces he’s currently working on: Pierre Boulez’s Dérive 2, which he’ll be performing as part of the AXIOM Ensemble performance on April 17.
I’ll give the last words to K., who, together with our friend A., attended the concert with me and summed up the experience best of all: “I find it wonderful to see these young people breaking boundaries with tradition. It gives me hope.”
Molly Joyce’s Rain in My Head, by Molly Joyce, written for, dedicated to, and performed by Emily Hoile (Hopefully, one day soon, Immovability will be available again for further listening; in the meantime, this is a lovely piece, beautifully played by its dedicatee.)
Valentin Bibik’s Cello Concerto No. 2
Credits: The photograph at the head of the post may be found here. The quotation from Dylan Mattingly may be found here. The quotation about Bibik, which has been attributed to Joel Sachs, may be found here, though I am not able to confirm its source. The remaining quotations are from the concert program notes.