Anyone who doesn’t like modern classical music might have been pleasantly surprised by the extensive program offered by voice of change Saturday afternoon. The group usually performs at Southern Methodist University, but this time it was at Meadows Hall at the Sammons Center for the Arts.
Works by four living composers – two born in America, two in China – were paired with an offbeat quintet by Prokofiev. Presented for in-person and live audiences, the concert also featured the winners of the Voices high school and college competitions.
by Zhou Long piano gongs (2005), for solo piano, oscillates between impressionistic textures and rapid and repeated ideas. He also asks the performer to strike two Chinese gongs of different sizes, creating mixtures of metallic and piano timbres. Pianist Benjamin Loeb gave a cracking performance, easily handling the delicate rhythmic interplay between piano and gongs.
Loeb then joins oboist Gina Ford in an assured reading of soft mist (2019), by Clayton Sloan, a Plano ISD junior and winner of the high school competition. The hopeful piece reveals cinematic influences.
Jingchao Wang, a DMA student at the University of Texas at Austin, won the college competition with her Yang Yu Huan (2019), for flute and narrator. The narrator recites a poem by Li Bai of the Tang Dynasty about the relationship between Yuhuan – an imperial consort – and the emperor who ordered her death. In a talk before the performance, Wang explained that the play is about looking perfect on the outside, while fighting internal battles.
Responding to Wang’s touching narration, which fell between spoken word and song, flautist Helen Blackburn brought her role to life. She shifted effortlessly between dark, melodious figures, desperate sighs through her instrument, and rhapsodic flights full of sibilant sounds and key clicks.
At Juliana Hall Cameos (2016-17), for soprano and piano, sets six poems by Molly Fillmore that pay homage to lesser-known American artists. Weaving influences from jazz, Broadway and modernism, the score contains chromatic dissonances, some more intense than others.
Fillmore, who is also a soprano, effectively conveyed the emotions of the texts, both with her flexible voice and her natural playing. She expressed strong defiance one moment, carefree joy the next. Pianist Elvia Puccinelli proved a sensitive collaborator, showing a strong understanding of the dramatic thrust of the music.
Images of the artists’ works were helpfully displayed on a monitor next to Fillmore. Although his diction is remarkably clear, it would have been nice to include the poems in the program notes.
Prokofiev’s Quintet in G minor (1924), exceptionally written for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass, evokes circus life, with lines that sway like trapeze artists.
An all-star band of oboist Jennifer Corning Lucio, clarinetist Kimberly Luevano, violinist Maria Schleuning, violist Susan Dubois and bassist Jeffrey Bradetich offered a delightfully varied narrative. They played alternately with irreverent abandon, gritty bite and elegant lyricism. But Lucio’s oboe didn’t always match the level of Luevano’s clarinet when it came to melodies between them.
It was frustrating that Fillmore’s pre-concert talk was about 15 minutes past the concert’s scheduled start time. And a ceiling vent occasionally emitted a loud metallic hum.