Today my young friend and I went to the downtown Dallas to a concert at the Dallas Public Library. I like concerts which take place on a weekend afternoon. I also like concerts without admission charges. The program was one of vocal pieces written by living composers featuring soprano Laura Anne Ayres, pianist Yulia Lavin, and flautist Lee Lattimore. We both enjoyed the concert, held in a small library auditorium.
The most timely piece was a song called "Ashes", by Mary Alice Rich, premiered today. Ms. Rich gave us a nice introduction to the piece. The subject matter of the song was the devastating fires which ravaged inland southern California last year. This proved particularly timely as this year's southern California fires appear to be causing even more damage. The song had a nice melody and a compelling lyric, while its piano accompaniment was brisk and pretty.
Jake Heggie's "Deep Desire" provided a set of meditations by the anti-death-penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean about the spiritual life, accompanied by excellent flute play of a very appealing melody.
Both the vocalist and the pianist introduced John Harbison's song cycle "Mirabai", as being more "challenging" to an audience. I found it extremely "accessible", as its dissonant moments and lyrical blooms made perfect sense.
I sometimes think that people who imagine a little dissonance to be "difficult" for the mass ear have never been to a horror movie or listened to dark ambient music, two experiences I count as deeply influenced by serialism and its descendents and which is often more rigorously atonal than the ordinary somewhat dissonant modernist.
John Martinson's "I am the Rose of Sharon" gave a vibrant reading to a setting from The Song of Solomon, while Zach Abramson's "Remembrance" had a poignance in presentation I enjoyed. The only "dead" composer featured was Aaron Copland, whose "Like a River" manages to bring the folk hymn into the concert hall without losing the spirit of the endeavor. Mr. Martinson attended the show, but did not speak, which I always think of as a kind of context opportunity lost--even though, I suppose, the music should do the talking.
The performance was technically impressive, and the performers all extended themselves to the audience. The crowd was not large--a few dozen people, by my count. But I heard others in the audience express their enjoyment of the work. We both enjoyed the performance very much--an hour's escape from the humdrum into a world of new music and interesting lyrics. Laura Anne Ayres gave a full-bodied performance that did not suffer from the cloying introduction of too much operative flourish.