‘Brand New Music’ seasonal debut

‘Brand New Music’ seasonal debut

November 1, 2018

On Friday evening, various graduate students from the music department performed excerpts of their compositions for the Brandeis community in Slosberg Recital Hall. The performers were select members of Brand New Music, a contemporary concert series that showcases the works of Brandeis students, faculty and alumni composers.

Alex Bean (GRAD), the first and third performer of the concert, presented two vocal pieces, “Space and Breath I,” and “Space and Breath III: Voyelles.” Both pieces were part of a three-part series featuring atonal melodies with wordless meditation on the parts of the voice and the space within the piece itself.

In the first piece, there was no conformity to traditional styles of music involving text and pitch, as the selection of notes was chosen randomly during the performance in response to frequencies of the room, which were filtered to Bean through a headset. The resulting frequencies called for an interesting array of notes, as Bean’s intense counterpoint demanded the use of multiple vocal registers. I was particularly impressed with his breath control during the performance, as Bean often fluctuated vowel sounds while staying on the same pitch, as well as belting sustained tones for many seconds. Likewise, I was fascinated by his percussive techniques, like clicking his tongue, because they emphasized the vast functionality of the mouth as its own tool in sound-making.

These techniques were undeniably pronounced in his third piece, “Voyelles,” which accentuated the concept of space. Bean utilized electronics in this movement and produced his own robot-like sounds and melodic phrases, which evoked images of rockets flying and radars beeping. His dynamic contrast was perhaps the most effective technique in this movement, as the frequencies of the room blasted so heavily at one point that many audience members had to cover their ears. Ultimately, while I did feel more connected to the third movement due to its more identifiable theme, I appreciated Bean for challenging the notion of what defines music by establishing a work centralized with abstract musical components.

The second performer of the night, Tyler Adamthwaite (GRAD), showcased his piece “Interior/Exterior” for organ and electronics. Unlike random sequences of pitches as expressed in Bean’s work, Adamthwaite’s piece incorporated a recording of multiple human voices speaking with chords layered underneath. The eeriness of the chords was incongruous with the performance itself, as Adamthwaite periodically turned off the voices and exited the room while leaving the chord on, only to re-enter and present a new chord layered underneath the voices. In the process of doing this, he often changed the color of his shirt as well as the lighting in the room. To add an even more seemingly comical effect, he also walked around the stage with unusual stomping gestures, even sitting in the front row a couple times as if to observe his own performance. The skit lasted for nearly fifteen minutes before he finally sat down at the organ to play a short atonal melody.

From a musical perspective, I thought Adamthwaite could have integrated more melodic components to his work instead of solely maintaining drones, but similar to Bean, I think his piece functioned well within the realms of art. The changing lights certainly intensified the eeriness of the chords echoing from the organ, and the absence of voices each time he exited the room left me questioning how chords, despite their simplicity, can induce strong emotional responses.

The last composition of the night, “Starlight, Star bright,” was written by graduate student Inga Chinilina (GRAD) but performed by pianist Yucong Huang. Huang, an ardent advocate for new music with a wide range of repertoire, is currently pursuing a bachelor’s at the New England Conservatory. She played Chinilina’s piece with caution, emphasizing complex rhythms and the calm low melodies with dissonant chords layered above. The purity of the piano in this piece heavily reminded me of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Drei Klavierstücke,” one of the first piano solos that paved the way towards the contemporary music era. To my surprise, this composition was entirely atonal as well, which shows just how liberal Brandeis composers truly are.

Although each piece offered a new lens to view the possibility of what defines music, Chinilina’s work contained a particular degree of stability and tightness due to modest interval progressions that made me favor it the best. For anyone interested in exploring more of her compositions, her SoundCloud profile features numerous works that are open to the public without charge. The next concert in the Brand New Music Series will be Saturday, Dec. 15 at 8 p.m., featuring student compositions played by the Lydian String Quartet.

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