Dallas — Voices of Change concerts are consistently disappointing. Oh, not because of the music. The music is nearly always well-played, and it’s innovative 20th and 21st century chamber music that listeners cannot hear anywhere else in the Metroplex.
The disappointment is that there are always so many empty seats for what are often revelatory performances.
The venue is Southern Methodist University’s Caruth Auditorium. If you’re concerned about parking availability, you needn’t be. The concerts are usually on Sunday evenings, so parking in nearby lots is free and ample. Is it the timing of the concerts? What else are you doing on Sunday evenings, seriously? Is it that contemporary chamber music seems intimidating? Okay, that’s legitimate, actually. But Voices of Change has pre-concert lectures that help to demystify what for many listeners will be unfamiliar works by unfamiliar composers. These concerts are a terrific opportunity to make new musical discoveries, and they’re more fun than you might think.
Now that you’ve decided you’ll go next time, what about Sunday’s Voices of Change concert?
The first half of the Jan. 14 program included works by two underappreciated composers: the Czech Bohuslav Martinů and the Dane Carl Nielsen. Martinů was born in 1890 and Nielsen in 1865, so these are not exactly cutting edge contemporary composers. But I cannot remember the last time I heard either in public performance, and much of their music is well worth the listen, including the pieces performed by Voices of Change.
Martinů’s String Trio No. 2 opened the concert. Like much of Martinů’s music, it is rhythmically innovative while maintaining a tonality often described as Neoclassical. Laurie Shulman’s program notes observe that this trio was first performed by the Paris-based Trio Pasquier, a trio comprised of three brothers, all advocates of contemporary music. An interesting bit of trivia: when the violinist of the trio, Etienne Pasquier, was confined to a prisoner of war camp during World War II, he became one of the musicians who premiered Olivier Messiaen’s famous Quatuor pour la fin du temps (“Quartet for the End of Time”).
Violinist and Voices of Change Music Director Maria Schleuning, violist Barbara Sudweeks, and cellist Jeff Hood navigated the often tricky landscape of Martinů’s writing well as individuals, but it was not until the second movement of the two-movement work that they settled into a cohesive, locked-in ensemble. The first movement, often intense and ferocious, was followed by a second movement beginning with solos first by cello, then by viola, an opportunity for Hood and Sudweeks to shine.
Nielsen’s Wind Quintet Op. 43, like the Martinů Trio, is by Voices of Change standards old news, as it was composed in 1921. The first of three movements begins with a brief bassoon solo, gorgeously performed by Ted Soluri, and continues with pastoral themes. These were ably executed (albeit with occasional wobbly pitch) by all five musicians, who also included flutist Helen Blackburn, oboist Erin Hannigan, clarinetist Paul Garner, and horn player Kevin Haseltine. The second movement is a traditional minuet, with two pairs of instruments, clarinet and bassoon and flute and oboe, occasionally interrupted by horn, in a lighthearted, clever way. The final movement, a Preludium followed by a theme and variations, represents an abrupt change of mood. The oboe is even replaced by the darker timbre of the English horn (and thus we got a rare opportunity to hear oboist Hannigan on that instrument). The theme is a hymn of Nielsen’s own composition, and the variations often seem strife-filled, until the return of the theme in the final variation. The five musicians got the character just right here.
The second half of the program began with composer Osvaldo Golijov’s Mariel, for marimba and cello. Percussionist Drew Lang and cellist Kari Kettering exceled on this, the highlight of the program. Golijov’s popularity has increased tremendously in the past several years, with good reason—Mariel is a hypnotic, minimalist delight. The piece was boosted by Lang’s impressive four-mallet marimba playing and Kettering’s rich, full, even sound.
The evening’s final offering, Harold Meltzer’s Piano Quartet, was particularly special since the composer himself was in the audience. Meltzer describes himself as a composer of “mosaics,” and indeed this one-movement quartet featured several sections descriptive of various moods: Effervescent, Ebullient, Contented, and the like, interrupted by a waltz that is a eulogy for the composer’s friend, the late Steven Stucky. Schleuning, Sudweeks, Kettering, and pianist Liudmila Georgievskaya evoked these various moods effectively, even when the writing was not always natural for the instrument.
These are top area musicians bringing us music that no other local group is playing. They’re worth our support.