As I was leaving Tuesday’s (Oct. 6) Art of Élan concert at the San Diego Museum of Art, it occurred to me how indebted the San Diego new music scene is the leadership and work of women. Outside of the institutionally supported new music offerings of local university music programs and Matt McBane’s highly successful Carlsbad Music Festival in north county, in San Diego, the women are doing much of he heavy lifting when it comes to new music.
For those who savor the cutting edge, Bonnie Wright’s Fresh Sound series in Barrio Logan regularly presents soloists and duos from far and wide who creatively push the chamber music envelope. While Camarada’s programs at the Mingei Museum, at Liberty Station and in Barrio Logan are not exclusively devoted to contemporary music, Artistic Directors Beth Ross Buckley and Dana Burnett include new music of a more accessible stripe on every program.
To open Art of Élan’s ninth season, Artistic Director Kate Hatmaker devised a program devoted to music composed by contemporary female composers, which may explain why the subject of female impresarios came so easily to mind. She chose five contrasting composers, each from a different tradition, to create a brightly hued mosaic.
Although the noted Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina came of age in the Soviet Union before all the other composers on the program were born, her String Quartet No. 2 from 1987 sounded the most radical. After an austere opening of bold strokes on a single pitch from each instrument in sequence, she gradually built intense clusters that rose slowly like clouds of incense until they finally disappeared.
True, Gubaidulina does not do “tuneful.” But she drew her audience in with bold harmonies and an assured sense of movement. Violinists Yumi Cho and Kate Hatmaker, violist Ethan Pernela and cellist Andrew Hayhurst provided the confident, sensitive account of this string quartet.
British composer Anna Clyne’s “Rest These Hands” for violin solo started out like a lament intoned over a drone but developed into a rhapsodic perpetuum mobile with Bachian overtones. Violinist Luanne Homzy surmounted its daunting technical challenges and magically retained the intimate communication she established in the work’s opening section through all the fireworks. Clyne dedicated this piece to her late mother Colleen Clyne, whose short poem “Rest These Hands” was read by Kate Hatmaker over the opening and closing bars of the piece.
Leave it to the one American composer, Sarah Kirkland Snider, to provide the big, flashy piece, “Daughter of the Waves,” a bold octet for strings and winds. True to its title, portions of the octet, gentle surging motifs, alluded to the lapping of waves on the shore, but most of it sounded like a noisy Latin street festival, especially with its joyous, muscular trumpet solos, ably recounted by San Diego Symphony Principal Trumpet Micah Wilkinson. The other players can be found in the program below this review.
Snider’s use of the electric guitar and allusions to the easy, repetitive cadences of pop music added even more variety to her fresh, eclectic idoim. Snider is co-founder of the New Amsterdam Records/New Amsterdam Presents music projects in New York, and Hatmaker promises further collaboration with these new music presenters from that other coast.
Another string quartet in a single movement, Chen Yi’s “Sprout,” settled into a modality that sounded midway between the western musical tradition and Chen Yi’s own Chinese musical heritage. Long serpentine lines gave the opening and closing sections of this tripartite work a meditative quality to which the agitated middle section provided welcome contrast. The same string players who performed the Gubaidulina String Quartet also played this quartet.
Israeli composer Shulamit Ran has lived all of her adult life in North America, studying her craft in New York City and settling in Chicago, where she joined the University of Chicago faculty and has maintained a fruitful collaboration with the Chicago Symphony over the years. Her “East Wind” for solo flute, however, instantly evoked a Middle Eastern setting with its haunting cantillation and high shrieks like a sirocco whistling across the desert. San Diego Symphony Principal Flute Rose Lombardo gave a beautifully shaped, nuanced account of this solo, using a wide array of colors to paint Ran’s moving desert portrait.
This concert was presented at 7:00 p.m. in the Hibben Gallery at the San Diego Museum of Art on Tuesday, October 6, 2015. The next Art of Élan program in this venue takes place on January 12, 2016, at the same time.