Concert review

Saturday night I went with a few Fuller folk to a concert at the Armory Center here in Pasadena. Southwest Chamber Music performed Luciano Berio’s Sequenza I for solo flute (holy fluttertonguing, Batman!), Rain Dreaming by Toru Takemitsu, and a premiere by a composer I didn’t know, James Newton. The evening was topped off beautifully by Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #5. Very nice programming, and beautifully performed.

James Newton’s piece was the Credo from his recently completed Latin Mass. We made it to the pre-concert talk, where he was interviewed by the music director for 40 minutes or so. Mr. Newton himself is a virtuoso flautist, as well as a jazz and “classical” composer. He talked quite a bit about Takemitsu, who was something of the glue for the pairing of Newton with Bach (the Berio was supposed to be another Takemitsu for which the music never arrived). Apparently Takemitsu was a huge fan of Duke Ellington, and both of them were formative influences on Mr. Newton himself. Olivier Messiaen’s music served as another inspiration for the Credo, in both his densely colorful harmonic language and in his faith.

The Credo itself was very good, although our seats were uncomfortably close to the baritone soloist, which meant that, at points, I heard a lot of voice and not a lot of ensemble (which consisted of flute, clarinet, string trio, contrabass, piano, and vibraphone). Especially during the instrumental sections, however, Newton had a fine sense of the ensemble; wonderful interplay and pairing of instruments. I hope a recording is released so I can hear it again, but properly balanced.

During the pre-concert talk, he spoke at length of the role of his own religious faith in writing the Latin Mass. Given the hostility (or at best, the apathy) toward Christianity found in many artistic circles, his openness was a bit daring, and more than a few audience members squirmed their ways through it. I was in heaven: here’s a brilliant musician living in two musical worlds, describing how Thomas Merton and Messiaen both so elevated the Mass as union of the believer with God that it became everything to him in both his life and his music. (Interesting side note: Newton himself is not Catholic, although to hear him talk one could be forgiven for expecting him to convert any day now).  I spoke with him briefly before the concert began, told him where I am and what I’m working on, and arranged to correspond in the future about music and faith and how they fit together. I’m kind of excited about that.

I guess that’s not much of a concert review. The concert was very good; the harpsichordist was absurdly good. I’ve heard the SWCM play before, and hopefully will again soon (William Kraft and Stravinsky next month!). Up next: just what exactly I am up to lately…

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Composer of music and sonic art. Percussionist, guitarist, computer musician. Composition/theory/electronic music professor. Husband and father. Catholic. Food and beer enthusiast. Perpetually dissatisfied with the contents of my sock drawer.

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