If Jeremy Turner’s “Suite of Unreason” is any indication, audiences at the Music Academy of the West’s world commissions and premieres this season are in for a wild, exhilarating ride. Composed in response to Jim Harrison’s poem of the same name, Turner’s piece is not a vocal setting, but rather a work of chamber music for piano (Conor Hanick), clarinet (Richie Hawley), cello (Robert deMaine), and percussion (Michael Werner). Its episodic, texturally diverse tapestry of effects met with a warm reception at the Lobero. Seductive new music that reflects an awareness of contemporary literature seems like a fruitful direction for this cellist/composer.
Beethoven’s Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano and Winds, Op. 16 brought Hawley back to the stage with his clarinet, this time in the company of Jerome Lowenthal, piano; Dennis Michel, bassoon; Eugene Izotov, oboe; and Julie Landsman, horn. Inspired by Mozart’s writing for this combination of instruments, Beethoven here offers plenty of sophistication and melodic invention, especially for the oboe and the horn.
After the interval, we heard the Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45 of Gabriel Fauré performed by Warren Jones, piano; Glenn Dicterow, violin; Karen Dreyfus, viola; and Alan Stepansky, cello. The piece complemented the first half of the concert perfectly, taking the balance of styles demonstrated there and incorporating elements of the classical and the modern into a single composition.
Two nights later, it was back to the Miraflores campus for a Mosher Guest Artist recital in Hahn Hall featuring the countertenor David Daniels, pianist Martin Katz, and for one particularly exciting number, the tenor Nicholas Phan. Daniels was in remarkable form, and amply demonstrated why he is considered the world’s top countertenor vocalist. Singing with grace and clarity, he delved deep into the repertoire, exploring not only the familiar countertenor territory of Handel’s opera Rodelinda, but also works by Beethoven, Hahn, and Britten.
The highlight of the evening was unquestionably a dramatic rendition of Britten’s Canticle II: “Abraham and Isaac,” Op. 51 that featured Nicholas Phan. With the stage lights extinguished, the singers began the piece facing away from the audience, the better to produce astonishment when they turned around and the lights came up. It’s hard to imagine a more unsettling form of beauty than the one Britten presents here, with the notorious “Akedah,” or Binding of Isaac, played out in musical form as a duet of extraordinary force and subtlety. We are lucky to have such artists in our midst, and the recital effectively whetted our appetites for more of David Daniels on Tuesday, June 27, when he tackled Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater.