Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

Women Composer Reinventing Themselves
AUFBAU 980619 64:13 p13 851 words
by Leonard Lehrman
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU

"The Festival of Secrets - for the Victims of Violence" and "Visions of Light and Mystery" were the provocative titles of two Manhattan concerts by three women composers early this month, all active members of the American Composers Forum.

Tamar Muskal

The Israeli composer Tamar Muskal, who is about to give birth to her first child, was in attendance for the world premiere of her 1997 clarinet-viola-piano trio, "Countdown," and the New York premiere of her 1989 viola solo, "Mourning." Both works were characterized by tremolandi and obsessive repeated-note figures, including a piano cadenza for the redoubtable Lisa Moore (for whom Muskal is currently composing a piano solo) which brought the chamber piece to a climactic/anti-climactic close. The two violists were Dan Panner and Marka Gustavssen; Meighan Stoops doubled on clarinet and bass clarinet.

Lenore Von Stein

Muskal was sharing the stage at St. Peter's Church in Chelsea with the virtuoso singer/composer/improviser Lenore Von Stein, who had organized the "Festival" - actually a once-a-year event - and contributed her own vocally-improvised pieces accompanied by bassonist Michael Rabinowitz and a "prepared" tape that she turned on and off at will, often emitting exclamations like "Wonder what's on here!..." Just as in Muskal's rigorously disciplined compositions could be heard the influences of her teachers Mark Kopytman, Jacob Druckman, and Martin Bresnick (who turned pages for Lisa Moore), so the opposite side of the coin, namely Noah Creshevsky, Tania Leon, and various jazz and chance artists could be felt as influences on von Stein. The contrast was vivifying, though one could also wish for a little more loosening up in Muskal and a bit more formal concentration in Von Stein. In particular, it could be enlightening to hear the latter, whose voice is striking in its range (both emotional and tessitural ), in works by composers other than herself.

Judith Sainte Croix

Merkin Hall was the scene of some unusual (and uncredited) lighting experiments, as Judith Sainte Croix presented six of her works, all dating from the past six years, with an impressive array of performers. Born Judith Reher, in Minnesota near the Sainte Croix River, of Norwegian and Czech forbears, she first made a name for herself as John Eaton's disciple at Indiana: Judith Martin (her first married name). She then took off for Alaska, New Mexico, and eventually New York, where she re-invented herself, taking the name of the beloved river of her childhood, having meanwhile discovered Native American sources of inspiration that now permeate her style.

Her 1996 Bright Leaf Trios have had several performances around New York with the composer as pianist; Lisa Arkis and Daniel Barrett were the flutist and cellist here, enthusiastically whooshing and tapping as well as playing tonally and microtonally what might be called Bartok meets Debussy meets the blues, all inspired by southwestern landscapes. ["Naked as a Bright Angel I comb the Yellow Hair of the Dawn" - begins the text the instrumentalists shout. (Sounds like an ideal piece for a naturist gathering - some day....)]

Tenor/counter-tenor Tony Alioto was the featured vocal performer in two pieces, with electronics elegantly engineered by Marcelo Mella (Sainte Croix's significant other): "Rise Up! The Enemy Is Us" (1998) featured dancer/choreographer Nancy Allison interacting with harpist Lisa Tannebaum in a marvelous non-verbal study in intolerance (with wind chimes acting as a crucible); and "Dear One" (1997), based on letters of Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper, was given its official world premiere here, though Alioto has been performing it many places as a solo piece. The composer might do well to re-think it possibly as a duet.

Vision I (1993) and Vision II (1997) were the most impressive ensemble pieces. The latter is a quartet, commissioned by Matt Sullivan, who is one-eighth Cherokee, and who performed it rapturously on oboe, oboe d'amore, drum, and (miked) Native American flute, together with a string trio (Roxanne Bergman, violin; Sam Kephart, viola; and Tomas Ulrich, cello). The piece was inspired by and dedicated to the memory of the Cherokee People who in 1838 walked the "Trail of Tears," a six-month death march in which half of them died while being "removed" westward to Oklahoma. Sainte Croix poignantly noted in the program: "To Native People the word 'removal' is synonymous with 'holocaust'.... The composer proposes that performances of Vision II be preceded or followed by workshops and discussions in which people look at the historical facts of this event and come up with different solutions to handling similar conflicts in the future..., ensuring that atrocities like the Trail of Tears never happen again." In Vision I, Andrew Bolotowsky doubled virtuosically on flute and (again miked) Native American flute, concertante against a veritable chamber orchestra of 11 instruments, all conducted dynamically by the composer, who opened the program as piano soloist in her 1992 Kachina Prelude, "Tukwinong" (Cumulus Cloud). Both her Visions and her Preludes are works in a series, still in progress. Remembering the past, exulting in the present, they sensuously and re-inventingly presage what should be a glorious future.

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