The Modern Picture Gallery
Peter J. Sharp Theater, Juilliard School
Elliott Sharp (US): Points and Fields (Western hemisphere premiere)
Chris Gendall (New Zealand): Rudiments (Composed for New Juilliard Ensemble)
Du Yun (China/US): Vicissitude No. 3
Errollyn Wallen (Belize/UK): Horseplay (Western Hemisphere premiere)
Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky (Uzbekistan) Paths of Parables II, with text by Woody Allen: Hassidic Tales, with a Guide to Their Interpretation by the Noted Scholar (Juilliard commission: World Premiere)
Du Yun (Speaker), Nathan Miller (Narrator)
New Juilliard Ensemble, Joel Sachs (Conductor)
E. Wallen and her guest Mimi at Juilliard (© Harry Rolnick)
The New Juilliard Ensemble never fails to present the most fascinating strolls through at gallery of contemporary aural paintings, and the first concert of the season, under the indefatigable Joel Sachs was no exception. Like any modern art opening, though, the tableaux ranged from the striking to the original to the downright dull.
Many in the audience last night might have come for the “Woody Allen music”, a setting of Mr. Allen’s ersatz Hassidic tales, from a New Yorker piece some years ago. It wasn’t the fault of Uzbek composer Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky that his impression was deficient. After all, Mr. Yanov-Yanovsky is highly regarded, a sort of Central Asian Osvaldo Golijov, who has studied with the finest composers and set his prodigious pen from Sufi poetry to concertos for Yo-Yo Ma.
In this case, though, he was gilding a prize comic lily. The tales, narrated with subtle Yiddish inflection by Nathan Miller, were accompanied by music ranging from Jerry Herman fiddler to more traditional shtettl all cheerfully orchestrated with maximum color and an incessant wood-block motif. Mr. Yanov-Yanovsky unerringly caught the Polish-Semitic spirit, but Mr. Allen had beat him to the punch with the original tales.
The most striking work by far was one which has been played numerous times in Europe, composed–oh horror!!–in the century before this one. But Belize-born Errollyn Wallen gave her ballet Horseplay, which has been performed numerous times since 1998.
The four movements, originally for four male dancers, take the horse-related words “brooding”, “swift”, “rocking” and “race”, though hardly literally. (Probably the dancers usually supply the images.) After more consciously cerebral pieces last night, it was a pleasure to hear Mr. Wallen play with more familiar aspects. Her hunting horn duos were as mysterious as the dark introductions to the other movements. The jazzy second section had a Sonny Rollins-style sax solo, montaged first against strings and then the lower brass. The finale, “race” was no galop: it was a subtle crescendo, so nuanced that one was drawn into it almost subconsciously.
I took special delight in Vicissitude No. 3 by Shanghai-born Du Yun, since her work was an interpretation of a short poem by the great Nobel Prize Laureate Wang Dan. No translation was given, and Du Yun’s offstage narration was more a series of sounds than pure Mandarin. But the tragedy of the poem was given from the beginning, with series of disconnected yet sharp orchestral sounds. They encompassed Chinese microtones and glissandi, and while exotic, set the mood for her whispered narration towards the end.
The first two works were played so well by Joel Sachs and his splendid young musicians that it took awhile to realize the effects were greater than the substance.
Chris Kendall’s Rudiments was appropriately titled. The three movements must have been studiously conceived and punctiliously composed, but I felt neither relations or feeling or empathy. On the other hand, scientist-composer Elliott Sharp put his amorphous theme through so many osmoses and quantum changes that one was more occupied finding the notes than listening to them. The work was relieved with a long–very long– sustained chord at the end. Time to relieve oneself from playing detective and to enjoy the colors of the orchestra.