Dallas — If Sunday’s small crowd for the season’s first Voices of Change concert is a clue, Dallas audiences may be put off by the notion of two hours of “new music.”
Voices of Change is a new music group, yes. But “new” is here defined as music of the past hundred years or so, and the group programs their concerts so skillfully that even skeptical listeners remain engaged.
Sunday’s matinee concert was no exception, and featured the drama of a composition competition, Rapido!, a contest in which composers have 14 days to create a composition that conforms to certain parameters announced at the beginning of the 14 days—the piece must be a theme and variations, 4-6 minutes long, composed for clarinet, violin, and piano. Five groups nationwide are each premiering three semifinalist pieces, with a finalist chosen from among the three to represent the region in the national competition.
The most interesting aspect of the three pieces were how varied they were—Mark Buller’s Regressive Variations, the piece that earned the finalist nod, is a kinetic reversal of the usual theme and variations pattern, with the theme presented at the end of the piece. Alex Luttrell’s Dream Sketches is an atmospheric, ethereal piece in four sections, while Richard Hermann’s Daydreams, night dreams chooses to emphasize the role of the violin, although the violin is sometimes muted, a strange timbral choice against the much brighter clarinet and piano. He gives the piano big, bass-register chords and allows the clarinet largely an accompanying role.
Voices of Change wisely chose to program a trio of eclectic and engaging works before and after the Rapido! semifinalists. First on the program was Andrew Thomas’s virtuosic Merlin for solo marimba, dazzlingly performed by SMU faculty member Drew Lang. After intermission was Prokofiev’s Op. 94 flute and piano sonata, performed with verve and musicality by Voices of Change mainstays Helen Blackburn and Liudmila Georgievskaya. Last up was Libby Larsen’s lighthearted, stride-piano-influenced romp Four on the Floor. Larsen is one of the Rapido! judges, and it’s easy to see why her works are so frequently performed. She often belies the notion of “new music” as being like Brussels sprouts—good for us, but not delicious. Just as Brussels sprouts when skillfully prepared can be a yummy treat, Larsen shows us that contemporary music can be yummy, too.