New music thrives

A few clicks around this blog will tell you I’m nuts about new music. I’m fortunate to have a cousin, Elisabeth Halliday, in the thick of it. She introduces me to stuff I might never hear otherwise. She is a soprano, and she sings with Rhymes with Opera, a chamber opera company dedicated to performing experimental vocal music. (RwO is two sopranos, a baritone, and two composers–how cool is it for an opera company to have its own composers? Two of them!)

Here’s something by RwO–Leads by Kathleen Bader:

That was performed by Robert Maril, baritone and cello; Elisabeth Halliday, soprano; Bonnie Lander, soprano and violin; Ruby Fulton, viola; George Lam, violin.

Last week RwO finished a tour in Boston a short bike ride from my house. (I would have gone even if it was a really really long bike ride. I would even have driven, and I hate driving.) They performed with the West End String Quartet, a terrific young ensemble. (Or maybe I should say a young terrific ensemble, since their youth was beside the point in their performance. They’re good.)

After my cousin’s stellar performance, the high point for me was a piece by one of RwO’s own composers, Ruby Fulton, being for the breakdown, played by the quartet. Here are two pieces by Ruby, THE END and The Walls are Taken Away, live at An Die Musik in Baltimore:

The performers here were Bonnie Lander, soprano; David Smooke, toy piano; Courtney Orlando, violin; Michael Shank, guitar; Rob Parrish, drums.

The toy pianist (not actually a TOY pianist–you know what I mean), David Smooke, is a professor at the Peabody Conservatory where many of these musicians studied. RwO performed his mini opera, Criminal Element, written in a language of his own devising, which I thought was terrific. The idea seemed to me a bit, well, ungrounded. But it worked. Here’s a piece  for piano, 10 hands by David Smooke:

That was h.àt. (homage à dr. teriwilliker), inspired by the evil deeds of Dr. Teriwilliker from “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” Performed at Mercyhurst College by (in order): Rachel Reszler, Mitchell Alpaugh, Shana Plunkett, Kelton Macke, Shirley Yoo. Under the direction of Shirley Yoo and the composer at Mercyhurst College.

RwO also sang a mini opera by their other composer, George Lam, called Someone Anyone, a ten minute suspense novel for two. Different and exciting.

Here’s an excerpt from Lam’s one-act opera The Persistence of Smoke.

The opera features mezzo-soprano Sandra Cotton and baritones Scott MacLeod and David Weigel. The libretto is by John Justice.

If you get a chance to see Rhymes with Opera or The West End String quartet grab it. But, in general, grab any opportunity to hear young musicians play new music. It’s always exciting and interesting and often beautiful and satisfying.

I’m experiencing a summer full of new music, so I’ll be blogging more frequently to share stuff I’m discovering and enjoying. Coming soon: Simon Cummings and Mamoru Fujieda.


About charles thiesen

I live in Dorchester, MA with five housemates and a cat named Chat Cousteau. I write novels and ride a recumbent bike, among other things.
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