Dallas — Voices of Change consistently presents innovative, engaging performances of contemporary chamber music. For their final program of the 2015-16 season, they brought in composer David Dzubay, who conducted two of his chamber works, all water has a perfect memory, for clarinet, piano, and string quartet, and Producing for a While, for soprano and—ready?—flute, bass clarinet, marimba, piano, violin, and cello.
Dzubay, who is chair of music composition at Indiana University, writes about all water has a perfect memory, which premiered in 2007, that it is “dedicated to those reclaimed by the sea,” including individual drownings, “the tsunami in Asia and the breached dams in New Orleans.
The piece began with what sounded like droplets of water in the piano and strings, as clarinetist Jonathan Jones introduced the first theme, followed by variations presented by each remaining musician, beginning with David Sywak on viola. Although extended techniques were limited in the strings, pianist Anastasia Markina used some special techniques, including muting strings with one hand. Violinist and Voices of Change Artistic Director Maria Schleuning excelled in a virtuoso turn in her variation. This piece represents much of what is interesting in contemporary music—it is demanding, yes, but still listenable.
Although Dzubay’s other piece on the program, Producing for a While, has instrumentation that sounds like the result of some misbegotten Iron Chef-style challenge, the curious collection of instruments actually worked quite well together. Soprano Rainelle Krause used traditional vocal techniques, Sprechgesang, and Sprechstimme techniques in Dzubay’s innovative setting of a poem by Julie Choffel.
The most notable work on the program, however, may have been Krzysztof Penderecki’s 1991 String Trio. Performed by violinist Maria Schleuning, violist David Sywak, and cellist Jeff Hood, the work is a revelation to listeners who, like me, are mainly familiar with Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. That piece, for 52 strings, uses a variety of percussive techniques and other non-pitched effects. The String Trio is more lyrical, and uses somewhat more traditional musical principles, but is still intimidatingly difficult. Schleuning, Sywak, and Hood impressed with their tight ensemble and wide variety of tonal colors.
Voices of Change called upon six violinists from SMU’s SYZYGY ensemble anchored by Schleuning and violinist Matt Albert for Andrew Norman’s Gran Turismo for Eight Violins, inspired by a car race video game. The piece is characterized by rhythmic propulsion and metrical changes, whirling by like cars at an Indy race. (Sometimes the musicians were visibly counting, and I can’t fault them.)
Toru Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea III provided a worthy counterbalance to all of this high-energy musicianship. Takemitsu’s ethereal, environmental effects were skillfully managed by Helen Blackburn on alto flute and Yumiko Endo Schlaffer on harp.
Voices of Change provides a welcome gift to Dallas audiences: well-played, thoughtfully programmed contemporary music for small ensembles.