Intentional or not, there was an abstract theme running through the concert of the Buffalo New Music Ensemble at Buffalo Seminary Sunday afternoon.
The concept of the evolutionary process of a singular idea ran through each composition with, on the face of it, strikingly dissimilar results.
Two of the ensemble members' works were premiered. The first was Ferruccio Germani's solo piano piece titled, "I like to sit watching the rain; the sun is warm on my arms; the wind blows strongly against my body; people rush through the streets and I want to swear at them. . .for now I will sit and listen to the quiet." A long title for a long piece, coming in at about an hour, and a marathon workout for pianist Michael McCandless, to whom the work was dedicated.
Although Germani can clearly write wonderfully rich, powerful and complex textures for the piano, it is equally obvious that he is following well-trod ground in the manner of Reich, Riley, Glass, et al. One hesitates to slap on the minimalist label indiscriminately, but the perpetual piling on of layers, the repetition and process of accents in a constant wash of sound, fills at least one criterion of that movement. As does the cumulative effect, which finds as much pleasure in relief that it's over as in the performance itself, a sort of catharsis at the end of a tour bus rendition of "One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall."
For all of that, about 30 minutes into the work things started happening to pique heretofore numbed interest -- a subtle broadening, emerging melodies, heroic densities, a more passionate insistence -- concern for the arm muscles of the performer. Powerfully played by McCandless, it is an impressive piece that screams, "Composer, edit thyself!"
McCandless' own work, "Crepuscular Alphabets," was a delicate contrast, scored for piano, cello, violin, alto flute and percussion. The title refers to the process of memory loss in Alzheimer's disease, experienced by the composer's grandmother. The piece is built on an idee fixe, the opening motive an anagram of her name, which becomes progressively fragmented and distorted. The dissolution is subtle, the external feeling of identity remaining throughout because of consistency of texture and thematic hints, the identity within confused as it is fired between the instruments as in a tangled web of synapse and more concentrated dissonance. There is little anger in the work, and a final feeling of acceptance.
The technical consistency of William Susman's "Twisted Figures" belied its kaleidoscopic effect, this particular brand of dodecatonic monomania providing a charged, colorful fabric. The ensemble conducted by Germani played it beautifully, the instruments racing each other up the scales and jostling for rhythmic elbow room. Fast and furious, always busy but never boring, this was an exciting penultimate panoply.
The finale was Estonian composer Arvo Part's "Spiegel im Spiegel" (mirror in the mirror), two-note phrases from the violin on a mirrored axis, extending ever outward in infinite self-reflection. Violinist Kunda Magenau and pianist McCandless played it with placid grace, this tonal work sounding as simple and sweet as an Ave Maria, a lovely benediction.