The Shawl of the New

Current Sounds

At First United Methodist Church, Monday, April

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

As ceaseless rain pattered outside, the latest edition of the
Current Sounds series unfolded last Monday, a mostly accessible
program of chamber music from the last 50 years — including scores
by Claus Ogerman, Chen Yi, Osvaldo Golijov, and William Grant
Still. Who knew that new music could be such a comforting

This balanced showcase of American music included transplanted
“outsiders” who have generously enriched the musical landscape in
the U.S. On tap were such notable figures as Chen Yi (from mainland
China), Golijov (from Argentina by way of Israel), and German
arranger/composer Ogerman, whose intelligent charts have ennobled
albums by Jobim, Sinatra, Michael Brecker, and Diana Krall.

Dazzling young violinist Yue Deng and pianist Robert Elise
performed Ogerman’s lyrical — but never lazy — 1975 piece
“Nightwings” and his 1997 “Sarabande-Fantasie,” its slightly
wrenched, polytonal palette a world away from Sinatraville.

Pianist Hogan and wonderful cellist Virginia Kron played Yi’s
“Romance of Hsiao and Ch’in,” a small delight, nodding to both the
Chinese and the adoptive American aspects of the composer’s
heritage. Hogan’s own short “Matisse,” played with grace and
gumption by Kron, harnesses the artist’s elements of lightness and
surprise. In another case of one art form co-opting another,
soprano Agatha Carubia sang Elaine Fine’s “Cante Jundo,” a
neo-impressionistic, Spanish-flavored setting of Federico García
Lorca poems.

Re-filtering folk music was another common theme, between the
handsome vernacular colors of “Reflejos de la Noche,” by Mexican
composer Mario Lavista (he visited UCSB as part of a new music
festival several years back) and the sweet-natured “Danzas de
Panama” by great African-American composer Still (1895-1978).

But the clear highlight of the set — and concert — was the 1992
work “Yiddishbbuk: Inscriptions for String Quartet,” by Golijov (a
composer-in-residence at the Ojai Festival in June). Golijov freely
weaves elements of dissonance and melodic tonalism, atmospheric
passages and floating structures. Those ideas are present here,
between two arid, intense shorter sections — with a teasing klezmer
pulse at one point — followed by a longer, mysteriously vaporous
third section. The Ojai String Quartet — Yue, Kron, violinist Amy
Hagen, and violist Kirsten Monk — played it with precision and
illuminating purpose.

This edition of Current Sounds qualified for the subtitle
“clement sounds,” with well-placed little provocations along the
way. What an ideal way to get out of the Monday night rain — and
the “old music” doldrums.


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