Dallas — Concertgoers often shy away from programs featuring “new music.” Perhaps it’s our inherent fear of the unknown, or a concern that we might be exposed to two hours of atonality, but concerts of music from, well, the past hundred years can result in lots of empty seats in the concert hall.
But with “new music” as accessible and, yes, fun as that performed under the auspices of Chamber Music International on Jan. 26, those fears and concerns should quickly dissipate.
The first two pieces on the program were composed and performed by cellist Clancy Newman. In Golden Blues, he was joined by violinist Ayano Ninomiya, and in From Method to Madness, was accompanied by pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine. These days, composer and performer are generally two different jobs. But of course, that has not always been the case: Mozart and Beethoven, for instance, performed their own compositions as a matter of course, as did virtuosic musicians such as Paganini—the great advantage of writing music for yourself is that you’re able to literally play to your strengths.
Newman, similarly, is writing what is in essence crossover music. It’s heavily influenced by the blues and jazz, as well as the classical tradition. But it’s also fun to listen to, especially in hands as capable as Newman’s, Ninomiya’s, and Moutouzkine’s.
We got to hear the beginning of “Golden Blues” twice; Newman broke a string, and after a brief delay to change it, they started over. Ninomiya’s bio reveals traditional training, but she embraced this repertoire, effectively jamming with Newman. Golden Blues ended with feedback-like effects reminiscent of those in the Kronos Quartet’s arrangement of “Purple Haze,” and it received an energetic ovation from the crowd.
From Method to Madness, which Newman wrote for the competitors in a cello competition, moved from a bluesy minimalism to a sort of spirited maximalism, ending in a fury. Moutouzkine’s role was mainly supportive here, but as a collaborator, he knows when to surge forward and when to move out of the way.
He got a larger role in Paul Schoenfield’s trio for violin (Ninomiya), cello (Newman), and piano (Moutouzkine). Called Café Music, the three-movement suite is untraditional in its musical influences, but traditional in its organization, with three movements, fast, slow, then fast. The first movement is reminiscent of a silent film score from the 1920s, while other sections seem inspired by a variety of other 20th-century popular styles. The three performers dashed off this repertoire with sense of fun always foremost.
After intermission, the trio of musicians added the Dallas Symphony’s Associate Principal Viola, Ann Marie Brink, for Chausson’s Piano Quartet in A Major. Written less than two years before Chausson’s 1899 death in a bicycle accident, the quartet has four movements with mercurial shifts in mood. While pitch and ensemble were sometimes a bit untidy, I suspect this reflects the substantial challenges of playing in an ad hoc chamber group. Most importantly, all four musicians switched ably from the near-mania of the fourth movement to the placidity and even melancholy of the middle two movements, then back to busy-ness for the final movement. Notable was Brink’s viola solo that opened the second movement—she has a confident, big sound that works well in chamber music.
Chamber Music International and Artistic Director Philip Lewis bring excellent local and “imported” musicians to Dallas and Richardson for their concerts, and as an added bonus this season, they offer pre-concert performances by local high-schoolers. The Deka Quartet, a group of high school sophomores and juniors, performed before Saturday’s concert. They were astonishingly good, playing with authority and confidence beyond their years.