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The Birmingham News - May 25, 2003 The Birmingham News - December 8, 2002
The Birmingham News - September 22,2002 The Birmingham News - May 26, 2002
Kaleidoscope - November 13, 2001 The Birmingham News - May 12, 1999
The Alabamian - April 21, 1999 The Birmingham News - January 27, 1999
The Birmingham News - July 28, 1998 The Birmingham News - May 6, 1998
The Birmingham News - January 21, 1998  The Birmingham News - May 1997
The Birmingham News - January 14, 1997 The Birmingham News - October 8, 1996
Living Music - Spring 1996 The Birmingham News - January 21, 1996
The Birmingham News - September 17, 1995
     

BAMA's 'Gallimaufry' a new music menagerie

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer

Sunday, April 09, 2006

On the program: Bugs escaping an iceberg, a talking tuba and an homage to a knuckleballer were part of "Gallimaufry," an eclectic gathering of new music presented last Sunday by Birmingham Art Music Alliance.

Best of the guests: Two pristinely realized electronic works by Cincinnati composer Mara Helmuth were musical metaphors for extramusical ideas. Flutist Donnie Ashworth gave lyrical accompaniment in "Serenity." In "bugs and ice: A Question of Focus," Helmuth asks for listeners' imagination in picturing crackling glaciers and insects' release from within them.

Best of the locals: James Jensen brought five of Theodore Hadden's poems to life, with the staunch help of pianist Kathryn Fouse and mezzo-sorano Kathryn Venable. Most memorable was "Niekro," a vivid remembrance of the former Atlanta pitcher and hall-of-famer just in time for the start of the baseball season. Jensen plans more baseball collaborations with the Birmingham poet.

More good stuff: Arkansas composer Robert Boury's dreamy trio, "Hymns to the Night," alternates spoken narration on nocturnal texts with instrumental interludes in an early 20th century expressionistic mode. Cellist Craig Hultgren soothed the mournful electronic cries in Bulgarian Veselin Nikolov's "Mono Dia" with lyrical playing.

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Duo premieres five works

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Birmingham Art Music Alliance has proved time and again that the experimental and avant garde are still healthy and relevant.

These steadfast modernists are surviving the onslaught of what many classical music marketers perceive as audience-pleasing (therefore tonally conservative) new music. Instead, they stage a refreshing mix of world premieres, off-the-beaten-track oddities and multimedia works.

Monday's concert at Birmingham-Southern College offered five premieres and two works with live computer processing. The performers were two of Birmingham's most prominent new music devotees, one the violinist Karen Bentley-Pollick.

BSC's Dorothy Hindman contributed "Monumenti," a duo inspired by Cindy Sheehan's anti-war protests in which images of confrontations, arguments, periods of repose, humor and ridicule were easy to conjure from the two opposing instruments.

Charles Norman Mason, completed "Entanglements" in Rome recently, where he is fulfilling his Rome Prize obligations. An intricately scored duo, its acoustic string timbres are imitated and expanded by computer-generated sounds in snappy rhythms, balanced by eerie sustained tones.

Bentley-Pollick commissioned Czech composer Jan Vicar to write "Homage to Fiddlers," a bold, dramatic work with lively rhythms and a hint of Bartok. Tracy Mendel combines lyricism with tension-producing repetition in "Lines After Neruda and Gismonti," but the work's connection with its title is vague.

Projected images of melting timepieces, family photos and outer space propelled UAB composer Michael Angell's Sonata for Cello and Tape, a work that oozes nostalgia and surrealism.

An amplified Bentley-Pollick accompanied herself in "Fiddle Faddle," as Troy, N.Y., composer Neil Rolnick manipulated a feed of her live performance with a computer. Easily the most technologically advanced piece on the program, it was also the least adventurous, its Gershwin-esque language and suggestions of fiddle tunes softening the experimental bite.

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Luna Nova proves it's a shining star

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

At Luna Nova's daring concert Tuesday, it was easy to pretend that Hess-Abroms Recital Hall was an experimental music venue in New York or a Vienna salon in the early 20th century, not the Alabama School of Fine Arts.

Formed just two years ago, this dynamic ensemble from Illinois, Atlanta, New York and Birmingham performs classic avant garde from the 1910s to the 1970s alongside premieres and new commissions. Its appearance at the Birmingham Art Music Alliance season closer gave about 50 devoted listeners a taste of the variety of modern and postmodern music, while giving a nod to Alabama composers.

In fact, three of the evening's five works were by local notables. Birmingham-Southern's Charles Norman Mason, a recent Rome Prize winner, has created a clever, congenial work in "Fast Break!" It harks back to the bloops-and-bleeps language of 1970s electronics works by Stockhausen and Davidovsky, but he manages an updated sound palette with clean, digital tracks. Luna Nova's quintet, comprised of violin, cello, flute, clarinet and piano, provided the instrumental fiber, which Mason has extended with seamless transitions to two speakers flanking the stage.

Dorothy Hindman explores three textures in "Setting Century." Its relentless ticking, ominous bell-like piano chords and expansive melodies each are strong statements, but are a bit too long and static.

Kurt Carpenter gave the quintet free rein with drawings by Vassily Kandinsky, in which the composer inserts pitches for improvisation. There's a bit of drama in the work as the musicians get a chance to literally strut his or her stuff by marching around the stage while soloing. The success of music in this genre depends largely on the musicians' talents, which were plentiful in this performance.

James Romig's "Ferocious Alphabets" is a throwback to Milton Babbitt's overly cerebral brand of serialism. Although it's more listenable than much of Babbitt's music, Romig's work was overshadowed by the more personal statements of the Alabama composers.

Most refreshing about this concert was Arnold Schoenberg's "Chamber Symphony," arranged for quintet by Anton Webern. One of modern music's most influential composers, Schoenberg is largely a stranger in these parts, so this performance was more than welcome. Its gutsy, angst-driven expressionism was played with conviction by the group, which Romig conducted. Adam Bowles' driving pianism, coupled with Helen Kim's soaring violin solos, held this difficult work together nicely.

Luna Nova hasn't yet gotten out all its ensemble kinks, but with its stellar credentials and obvious devotion to its craft, that should happen soon.
 

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New and newer

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer
6/19/05

New music wafted through the cavernous lobby at the Birmingham Museum of Art last Sunday as musicians from the Birmingham Art Music Alliance entertained art-viewing passersby and a sit-down audience. Titled “New Music at an Exhibition,” the program started with Robert Boury’s reflective and ethereal “Domination of Black,” set for mezzo-soprano and piano to Wallace Stevens’ poetry. It was contrasted by Cynthia Miller’s atonal and abstract “Elegy” for solo piano. Michael Coleman explored the dark side with his setting of three 19th-century texts dealing with aging, death and despair. Monroe Golden presented the American premiere of “81,” a piano work with drama and open harmonies that defies the agitated microtonal sounds that he usually pens.

The two able performers were pianist Kurt Carpenter and mezzo-soprano Kathryn Venable. Carpenter, who transcended the out-of-tune piano with strong readings, demonstrated Zen-like expansiveness with open textures and insidethe- piano plucks and thumps in his “Oswald Spengler Songs.” Venable’s spirited singing in Peter Blauvelt’s “Cette ratatouille” combined the ambience of a French cabaret with the surrealism of Schoenberg and Berio.
 

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Ara excels at BSC

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer
4/17/05

One of Mason's compositions ended a concert by the Ara Saxophone Quartet Tuesday at BSC. "All Four One" pivots between restful landscapes of sustained pitches and unsettling rhythms that veer toward the edge of playability. The Birmingham-based quartet tackled the difficult score admirably, at times heroically, capping a evening of demanding yet entertaining music by several local composer.

Dorothy Hindman's clever, smile-inducing "Drift" is a rhythmic minefield that explores various harmonies in quick succession. Mary Elizabeth Neal shows the influence of Hindman, her teacher at BSC, in "Don't Move," a short exercise in syncopation. Samford University composer James Jensen's coherent and satisfying "Three Strategems for Saxophone Quartet" alternates between acidic harmonies, vigorous rhythms and lyrical, Celtic-inspired melodies.

Even if the minimalist Philip Glass isn't your cup of tea, you had to like the quartet's energetic rendition of "Quartet," characterized by thoughtful attention to balance, nicely tapered dynamics and dizzying scale patterns. This virtuoso ensemble, comprised of Meredith Warren (soprano), Jonathan Bergeron (alto), Allen Warren (tenor) and Aaron Pirl (baritone), nicely fills another niche in Birmingham's burgeoning new music scene.

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New music, old music

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer
 

Few performers are as devoted to new music as Paul Bowman. The German guitarist last came through town two years ago plucking out the modern sounds of 20th-century avant-gardists Charles Wuorinen and Elliott Carter. At his concert Monday at Samford's Wright Recital Hall, Birmingham composers were the focus of Bowman's virtuosity.

At the Birmingham Art Music Alliance event, Charles Norman Mason's stylish "Mirrors, Stones and Cotton" segued seamlessly between taped electronic sonorities and the live instrument. The out-of-phase rhythms and delightfully disorienting microtones in Monroe Golden's "Leaven," also for guitar and electronics, created a kind of sonic cobweb.

Dorothy Hindman's "Needlepoint" was a pastiche of textures - strings snapping percussively against the fingerboard one moment, more lyrical but dissonant figures the next. Bowman held its patchwork design together nicely. Encores, music by Bach and Albeniz, showed Bowman's prowess in more conventional music.

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Goliard offers city's best

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer
 

Last Tuesday at Birmingham-Southern College, local composers offered some of their best efforts to the Goliard Ensemble, a well-known new music ensemble from New York. The best of the five works on the Birmingham Art Music Alliance program came from the husband and wife team of Charles Norman Mason and Dorothy Hindman.

Mason's "A Completed Portrait of Picasso" for tenor and four instrumentalists, a Goliard commission, drives relentlessly through a Gertrude Stein text with a steady ostinato and creative word play, letting up occasionally to linger on key phrases. His score captures Stein's unique repetitive lexicon through a variety of meter changes and a kinetic buildup of intensity.

Hindman brought David Smith's nostalgic poetry to life in "Three Songs of Reminiscence." Hints of tango rhythms in "American Plantagenet" provided ironic contrast to the story of an itinerant preacher. The tale of a double suicide drowning in 1946 was poignantly rendered by tenor James Blanton and pianist Arielle Levioff. Smith's appearance with Birmingham's Three Tenors was remembered in the delightful operatic parody, "Aria," which ends on a hearty high note with "Tenorissimo." Goliard's Blanton provided the grandstanding.

Michael Coleman's Ives-influenced "Fairhope," Monroe Golden's digital army of microtonal bassoons titled "Tunnel Vision" and Ed Robertson's alternatively expressionistic and introspective "Music for Cello and Piano" rounded out the program.
 

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New York, Birmingham duel by using new compositions

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer
 

Two culturally distinct cities clashed note for note Sunday in an Artburst-sponsored music exchange between the 25-member Birmingham Art Music Alliance and the 90-strong, New York-based Vox Novus.

The organizations, whose missions are to provide performances of new music in their respective cities, showcased three composers each. No winners were declared, but the Southerners showed as much creative moxie as their Yankee counterparts. More, at times.

In his post-romantic "Tears of Dew" for cello and piano, New Yorker Robert Voisey drew inspiration from Middle Eastern modes, but was mostly an unimaginative discourse on a Hebrew pun.

Terry Winter Owens' "Red Shift" is indebted to George Crumb's zodiac music. A modern-day music-of-the-spheres for solo piano, its title suggests the spectral phenomenon at the limits of the universe. Pianist Adam Bowles' presentation created the necessary atmospheric depth. Noah Creshevsky's "Great Performances" engaged a flutist (Donny Ashworth) and cellist (Craig Hultgren) in a clever encounter with recordings of crowd noises, radio broadcasts and commentary.

Of the Alabama works, Dorothy Hindman's solo piano "Forward Looking Back" combined the freedom of Charles Ives with the shimmer of Claude Debussy, without mimicking those composers. Its allure lies with its passion and lyricism, which seem to bound past any stylistic restraints.

James Jensen's picturesque "The New Yorker Songs" was the evening's most conventional work, its five songs nearly literal word paintings of magazine poems. It received the evening's best performance, soprano Melanie Williams delivering clear, strong texts with confidence and versatility. Adam Bowles was as sensitive an accompanist as proved a soloist.

Two of Monroe Golden's "Alabama Places" series rounded out the program, the playfully rhythmic and tonally disorienting "Iron Works" building to an out-of-phase tour de force.

Two Artburst events remain before the Unitarian Universalist Church is demolished. Artburst is expected to follow the church to its new facility near Valley Drive and I-65.
 

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Amion Quartet plays well despite difficult scores

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer

The tenacious avant-gardists of the Amion String Quartet performed Sunday at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, courtesy of the Birmingham Art Music Alliance.

Comprised of violinists Mayumi Repp and Michael Korn, violist David Filner and cellist Craig Hultgren, these dedicated new music advocates have provided first hearings for local and regional composers, through various personnel shifts, since 1994.

The concert's most accessible work, Brian Moon's "Lines and Curves," was laced with lively and complex rhythms and cleverly alternated among serious, whimsical and lyrical moods.

Drawing from the chance procedures espoused by composers such as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Monroe Golden composed his String Quartet No. 2 by choosing numbers in the phone book and formulating them into pitch orders. Such techniques can potentially produce excruciating dissonance, or worse, boredom, but Golden's choice of modes and creative use of string timbres not only made this a tolerable, but an enjoyable listen.

Charles Norman Mason's "Stringens" goes back 23 years, and it shows. It is immersed in the 12-tone serialism of composers like Milton Babbitt and Roger Sessions, but also shows influences from Elliott Carter's quartets. Dizzying arrays of glissandos, a wealth of off-the-beat rhythmic play and thick sound masses were indications of Mason's talent early on. But today it's out of fashion. Mason, like most composers, has moved on from this brand of academicism.

Closing was Floridian Michael Coleman's Quartet, a 1991 work that contrasts a strident tonal language with singing lyricism. Although a scant few minutes long, it epitomizes the aesthetic struggle and reevaluation many composers faced in the last years of the 20th century.

Faced with difficult scores, the Amion played exceptionally well. Mason helped them through his challenging score with a baton, but they were on their own for the rest. They're a rare and valuable resource in Birmingham's musical life.

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New Arts Stage served up a fascinating olio of entertainment

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer

It's not only what you say, it's how you say it, is the lesson to be learned from the New Arts Stage at City Stages last weekend.

The pre-apocalyptic performance artists in "Anniston House of Horrors" conveyed their environmental message with stilted dialogue, long dramatic gaps and insipid lines like "Benign is so boring; I like malignant, how 'bout you?"

New York composer Kyle Gann, on the other hand, tackled the Battle of the Little Big Horn directly and honestly in his microtonal, historical revisionist "Custer and Sitting Bull." More than just an apologetic discourse, the work for narrator and electronics created a distinct, though unsettling ambiance through rhythmic incantations, trumpet calls and Indian percussion sounds.

Michael Angell's short, but very clever "Cristal'93," an electronic work put together by manipulating sounds emanating from a champagne bottle, was one of the notable new works on two Birmingham Art Music Alliance programs. Robert Boury's sentimental "American Names," performed heartfully by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Venable and pianist Kurt Carpenter, drew on the language of Copland and Barber to sentimentalize place names and christened names.

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Pianist Rob Conway

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer

New music specialist Rob Conway, known for his interpretations of John Cage, Elliott Carter, Iannis Xenakis and other big-name modernists, delivered a gripping program of adventurous, avant garde works Monday. Held at Samford University's Wright Recital Hall and sponsored by the Birmingham Art Music Alliance, the concert spotlighted some of Birmingham's best composers.

The Detroit-based pianist started with Dorothy Hindman's piano and tape dialogue, "fin de cycle," which creates an engaging, conversational give-and-take in a variety of moods and textures. String plucking and other inside-the-piano devices added to her expansive sonic arsenal.

Michael Coleman captured listeners' attention with a stark, clean and airy style in the first of two bagatelles and pounding rhythms and frighteningly loud chords in the second. Robert Train Adams' "Piano Sonata (Four Mobiles)" moves gradually from colorful tonal landscapes to dissonant angular strides, Conway conveying the composer's imagery and driving rhythms with conviction.

In "Sojourn," Michael Angell has created a unique and attractive sound world based on Carson McCullers' short story, "The Sojourner." Drawing on a variety of percussion instruments, metallic sonorities and a wisp of an organ melody in the tape, it migrates from the naive to the otherworldly, the nostalgic to the ostentatious. It's not an easy score to play, but Conway handled it with ease.

James Jensen's "Eight Preludes for the Dance" was the program's most conventional, and least venturesome work, its language borrowing from jazz, the romantics and the impressionists.

Kurt Carpenter's "Transylvania" requires virtuoso playing, and he received it in this potent reading from Conway. The piece explores the top-to-bottom extremities of the piano, fluctuating from near-ambient stasis to boisterous, clashing harmonies. Carpenter uses silence and tone clusters particularly well, captivating listeners on a formal as well as sensual level.

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Musical Alabama

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer

Alabama places, visited through the pens and computers of composers and poets, resounded through the Unitarian Universalist Church last Sunday. The intriguing program, co-sponsored by Artburst and the Birmingham Art Music Alliance, traveled through a Birmingham rush hour, took a affectionate look at Southern gentility, stopped at a tobacco shop and lamented last year's coal mine disaster in Brookwood.

The concert's centerpiece, a sequence of three microtonal works for piano and synthesizer by Monroe Golden interspersed with Linda Frost's poetry, proved the high point. In spite of its repetitive rhythmic anchoring, Golden's wry, ear-stretching tonality can be disorienting when heard in abstract isolation. Frost's frank, clever and occasionally acerbic readings about the misfortunes of her 1981 Toyota, a stressful walk through a City Stages crowd and the death of her father brought solidity and context to Golden's music.

Charles Norman Mason's electronic explorations in "Mirrors, Stones, and Cotton" extended the technical boundaries of the live guitar with a pristinely-realized tape, the intricate rhythms and variety of timbres in the electronics providing a clever counterpoint to the live instrument.

Works by Robert Train Adams and Matthew Scott Phillips were less original. Train's sentimental "From the Birmingham Airport," was overtly reminiscent of Samuel Barber or Carlisle Floyd's music, Phillips' string quintet movement, "The Briary," a static attempt to conjure the Birmingham tobacco shop's ambiance.

Guitarist Michael Patilla's introspective and immaculate playing in Rusty Banks' "Jim Walter No. 5" captured the deep but quiet sorrow at the loss of lives in a mine disaster.

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Arts alternatives presented aplenty at festival's New Arts, Oasis stages
05/26/02

MICHAEL HUEBNER
News staff writer

Veering from the beaten paths of City Stages last weekend, it was possible find some intriguing arts alternatives. They were indoors a distinct advantage on a rain-soaked Friday night and not nearly as loud, although a throbbing bass or whining electric guitar occasionally seeped in from the street to interrupt the mostly acoustical flow.

Here's a smattering of what went on:

Some acts came from afar composer Anne LeBaron from California Institute of the Arts, the brass quartet Sotto Voce from Wisconsin, dance improv artist Ann Law from Chattanooga. Most noticeable about the New Arts and Mason Music Oasis stages were the talents of devoted local artists whose presence is often diminished by the big boys at the Alabama Symphony, Alabama Ballet and other arts bastions.

To get to New Arts, you had to cross Eighth Avenue North to the Birmingham Museum of Art. Sequestered from the main stages in Steiner Auditorium, a potpourri of avant garde and postmodern music, video, theater and various combinations thereof ran for two afternoons. Attendance ranged from 20 to more than 100 as people freely filed in and out.

On Saturday, Ann Law presented "Solitary Geography," a slow, airy, meditative, and highly engaging improv accompanied by cello. Electric guitarist Andie Nixon hummed and mumbled through three songs in his introverted, very minimal style.

"Intoxication Tree" was 23 minutes of mostly cliche cathartic ramblings about coming of age and self-discovery. Later the trio December improvised on vibraphone, electric guitar and bass clarinet in a minimalist, repetitious mass of sound.

Birmingham's new music ambassador Craig Hultgren performed a captivating array of works for cello with video accompaniment, the best of which was Dorothy Hindman's "drowningXnumbers." Intense, gripping, frenetic at times, it held listeners in rapt attention. Leisha Hultgren's video, made after the composition, complemented it well with its series of abstract, filtered and grainy images.

In the multi-media "Ghost Warrior," Birmingham artists Jill Johnson and SI Reasoning waged war on weeds and ants. Dressed in green leafy costumes, the acting was quite effective at first, but wore thin as the script became more disjointed. The idea was to bring a painting and several photographs to theatrical life. Intended as a metaphor for the War on Terrorism and a humanitarian statement, this elaborate work stretched the imagination in too many directions. Put simply, it needed pruning.

Anne LeBaron is a talented composer whose work spans jazz and folk idioms. The most engaging work on her set was "Sauger," which presented recorded vacuum cleaner sounds while trombonist Jay Evans played and hummed into his instrument in a humorous dialogue with the machines.

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The art of music

Kathleen West
Senior Staff Writer

Challenging, provocative and outstanding, the Birmingham Art Music Alliance began its 2001-2002 concert series on Oct. 16 with performances by Birmingham’s foremost new music composers.
Dressed in purple and armed with a violin, LaDonna Smith addressed the audience.
“The next piece was composed a few minutes from now,” Smith said. “I’d like to invite you to think of this piece as a reflection of life.”
Smith’s bow and voice produced a raspy singing that eventually gave way to a plaintive Chinese folk melody, full of dips and sways and a buoyant sadness. At first gradually, and then suddenly, the raspy singing built into a scream.
Michael Angell, associate professor in the Music Department and former Alliance president, explained why it is culturally important to hear a woman scream while she plays the violin.
“Music that is created in its own time is obviously created in a cultural setting,” Angell said. “When you play that music, one, two hundred years later, a great deal of the impact is lost, because people’s ears are different, the way they listen to music is different, their culture is different.”
The Alliance, a local group of composers and musicians dedicated to performing works by living classical composers, is now entering its seventh concert season.
UAB has been instrumental in nurturing this avant-garde group.
“People don’t get a chance to listen to new classical music a lot,” Angell said. “The Stephens Center and a number of other venues have been very good about hosting new music concerts because they’re curious.”
“The impact that Beethoven’s Third Symphony had in the early nineteenth century is now lost to us and people can now listen to that piece easily, without a lot of the same kind of tension that was felt back in the early 1800s.”
Angell thinks one of the best things that new music does is challenge its listeners.
“[It may be] evocative, perhaps it’s frustrating, maybe it’s maddening, maybe it’s enlightening,” he said.
Tuesday’s thought-provoking performance certainly confirmed this.
“Some musics expect a very little amount from their listeners, shortchange them,” Angell said. “Our music composers are less likely to do that.”
Before Smith’s performance, there was lengthy applause for Monroe Golden’s composition “Cheaha,” a syncopated, microtonal piece for four-handed piano, featuring interlocking deep-toned chimes and borrowed fragments of Latin rhythm.
Craig Hultgren performed Paul Rudy‘s composition “Parallax 2 ‘Apparitions’,” a work for two-channel tape and live cello.

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Ben Johnston brings special tuning to town

By Nancy Raabe
News staff writer

One of the many valued services performed by the intrepid Birmingham Art Music Alliance is its custom of showcasing a guest composer. Monday the consortium had the foresight to bring Ben Johnston to town. His humane experimentation with alternate tuning systems through an impressive body of work has earned him a valued place on the contemporary scene.

The New York Times once called Johnston "one of the best non-famous composers this country has to offer." Certainly he is among the most accessible of what can be called the contemporary-music radicals. The most commonly used tuning system in music is "equal temperament," which divides an octave into 12 equally spaced tones. Johnston uses two purer systems, "microtonal music" and "just intonation," which avoid harmful adjustments that "equal temperament" requires.

This all may sound forbidding. But Village Voice critic Kyle Gann, a former student of Johnston's, describes equal temperament as "the musical equivalent of eating a lot of red meat and processed sugars and watching violent action films," whereas just intonation promotes calmness, passivity and tranquillity.

Johnston has argued along the same lines, noting that our modern tuning system may be partly responsible for a cultural psychology that invests much in action and violence, and relatively little in introspection, contentment and acquiescence.

These last were precisely the qualities that came across in his Ponder Nothing, a series of sensitive variations for solo clarinet (Lori Ardovino) on the hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Be Silent," in the raga Alap for solo bass (based on a 14-tone scale) and in his jazzy, foot-tapping Progression, also for solo bass, both played by Robert Dickson. Notable as well were Jim Jensen's resonant, assured ...before the morning watch for percussion ensemble, Dorothy Hindman's propulsive Dances for clarinet, marimba, and piano, Charles Norman Mason's engaging, highly rhythmic Windage and Rob Stanton's finely lyrical Sonata for English Horn and Harp.

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BAMA brings the avant-garde to UM

By Stephen Shillito
Photography editor

The art of music has been around since early civilization. Not unlike civilization itself, music has evolved from a simple and elemental concept to an awesome construction. I need not argue that music is, by far, one of the most powerful synopsis by which humans are able to truly convey their emotions.

Music has generally followed the same rules in many respects - that is, up until the twentieth century. In fact, it has evolved to yield a certain division of style known as art music. This is the type of music some refer to as "avant-garde" or seemingly ahead of its time. Many listeners mistakenly refer to as noise when they really have not considered that, for many composers, this type of music is far removed from tradition and can be an attempt to push the frontiers of music. Furthermore, it seeks new and unexplored realms of creation and expression. Many groups have come together to conserve and promote the growth of art music.

BAMA (Birmingham Art Music Alliance) serves as an organization for composers and advocates of art music who wish to incorporate it into the culture of Birmingham and surrounding areas.

The University of Montevallo is such an area. Last month, BAMA presented us with a very interesting and enlightening performance. Many pieces were purposely simple for symbolic reasons while others were more elaborate with multiple meaning. Several pieces were composed by faculty members of UM who are presently active within BAMA. "Three Chinese Songs," written for mezzo-soprano Tana Alexander, are settings of three Chinese poems which were translated into English by Kenneth Rexroth. This piece was composed by Edwin Robertson, professor of music and coordinator of music theory at UM. "Tetrad Equinox," composed by Lori Neprud-Ardovino, assistant professor at UM, was written in 1984 while she was still in graduate school. Each movement represents a season, the music attempting to capture the essence of the poems.

At this point, I feel inclined to make mention of my favorite and least favorite of all the pieces performed that night. I'll begin with the latter. History, fortunately, has a method for filtering out the bad music while allowing the better music to continue on into future generations.

Unfortunately, contemporary listeners of a bad piece must endure it for time has not yet cleansed it from history's repertoire. A good example of such pieces is "Tchee Pay Koo." This piece was written for soprano and mezzo soprano and was sung a cappella. It was a total test of the performer's ability... and the audiences nerves! Sine dubio, this composition called for performers who possess capitol vocal skill. Both vocalist met, with honors, the physical demands of this piece. The composer, on the other hand, had some explaining to do. Could it be that the piece exists solely for experimental purposes? Certainly the composer did not engineer it for aesthetic convention. Could it be that the composer had gone mad and done away with his senses? Physically, the piece made me itch. Mentally, I found myself in an almost irreversible stupor. In short, I found "Tchee Pay Koo" to be absolutely loathsome.

A better piece was Beyond the Clouds of Knowing, by Eric Hollenbeck. It caught my attention from the beginning and held it well beyond the final note. It contained a remarkable contrast of dynamics. The contrast represented a struggle between chaos and order, in which order is represented by consonant melodic and harmonic fragments that reoccur throughout the piece, and chaos is represented by more dissonant material that obscures the former.

My favorite piece, by far, was "Departing Flights" by Don Freund. I found that by closing my eyes, I could practically visualize the essence of what was being played. The composer quotes J.S. Bach in the second movement and I'm sure most experienced listeners picked up on this. However, I was pleasantly caught off guard when I detected that Fruend was, in fact, making references to the works of George Martin, a contemporary composer who is well known for his revolutionary arrangements during the 1960's. The listening of "Departing Flights" afforded me with the sensation that only truly potent music can.

Clearly, listening to BAMA's performance was a mind-altering experience. Art music is a clear sign of the evolution of human creation and is a credit to the adventurous spirit of composers and mankind.

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Warmth, enthusiasm flow at BAMA concert

By Nancy Raabe
News staff writer

In cities less well endowed with initiative than Birmingham, recognition and appreciation of new music lags hopelessly behind that of contemporary art and modern dance.

In academic isolation, composers compose primarily for each other without much hope of a wider audience. The gulf between composer and performer grows. Participation in the art and act of musical creation becomes an increasingly distant concern for the mainstream concertgoer.

Here, though, we have the energetic Birmingham Art Music Alliance to remind us of the vitality of today's new music scene. Tuesday night another such opportunity was afforded a full house at the Unitarian Church for a BAMA concert presented by Artburst.

True, it wasn't exactly the same as a sellout at the BJCC. Here "full house" meant perhaps 100 people. But there was no mistaking the warmth, enthusiasm and general goodwill that flowed through the sanctuary. And everyone was safe in coming away with his or her own point of view on every piece, something most people are too timid to do with mainstream repertory. (When did you last hear anyone admit, "Oh, Brahms -- I can't stand his music," or "The Beethoven Eighth? Sorry, just don't care for it"?)

Several items on Tuesday's program met with hearty acclaim. Foremost was Dorothy Hindman's superbly crafted Songs of Reminiscence, premiered last year at Birmingham-Southern College by tenor David Smith. Author of the texts, Smith sang in this performance with accompaniment by pianist Kevin Grigsby.

Lively, engaging and bursting with bravura, the cycle will find itself much in demand once word spreads.

Monroe Golden's String Quartet No. 2 and guest composer Dennis Kam's Sonata for Cello and Piano were warmly received as well. Golden explained that he sought to combine a floating asymmetrical rhythm and simple pitch structure with the process of "phase shifting," in which phrase units overlap. The attractive result presented the aural image of a stable "pool" of sound whose surface danced and shimmered subtly.

And Kam's dark-hued work, played expertly by Grigsby and cellist Craig Hultgren, combined structural integrity with an ear for deep sonorities and luminous textures.

Also on the program were "Asi Nisi Masa," a dazzling soundfile by UAB's technology master Michael Angell, Donald Ashworth's sure-handed "Solitude" for solo flute, the amiable "Short Sonata" by Mark Chambers and Philip Schuessler's pop-influenced "Infinity" for flute, cello and piano.

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Composer Diemer's music within reach, worth respect

by Nancy Rabbe
News Staff Writer

In the realm of modern music, accessibility and integrity are qualities that few have been able to reconcile succesfully.

Composer Emma Lou Diemer may be diminutive and unassuming in person,as those who attended Tuesday's Birmingham Art Music Alliance concert discovered. But in her music, Diemer, 71, has proven to be one of only a handful of living composers to have mastered that reconciliation of apparent opposites.

Arnold Schoenberg once noted famously that "there's a lot of music still to be written in C major." As far as serious composition goes, though, it's a betrayal of our age simply to write a pretty tune in an easy-going key. To be true to his or her position in the historical continuum, a composer must bring to bear, in some unique way, an acknowledgement of what has come before and where the craft stands at this point in time.

With a substantial legacy spanning five decades and encompassing three symphonies, six concertos, and a wide range of chamber, choral, and organ works, Diemer has done just that in a wide variety of ways.

The two pieces included on Tuesday's program, written within a few years of each other, were as different in style as night and day. Yet each projected its message clearly and effectively.

When in Man's Music (1976), expertly sung by members of the First United Methodist Chancel Choir under James Cook, offered a lush setting of Fred Pratt Green's stirring text, rich in harmony and noble in aspiration. Diemer's 1973 Declarations for organ, on the hand, draws on strict 12-tone procedures, serialized rhythm and innovative organ techniques. But the virtuosic context in which they're invoked made this a riveting program closer, especially in Diemer's dynamic performance. ("This is not a tune that you'll go away humming," the soft spoken Diemer warned the crowd beforehand, adding that in fact this might well be only the second public outing it's had. "It's published," she added as an afterthought, "but that doesn't mean a thing.")

The well-planned program also included a reading by Lester Seigal and the Birmingham-Southern College Concert Choir of Charles Norman Mason's 1992 From Shook Foil, one of the rare pieces of "modern music" that one simple can't hear too often. Richard Perry gave James Grant's Three Furies for solo tuba an appropriately wild ride. And the vivid aural imagery of Rick Nance's Between Dog and the Wolf for soundfile, proved a perfect foil for Edwin Robertson's finely wrought Trumpet Reflection (1972), nicely played by Joseph Ardovino and Cynthia Jones.

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BAMA produces contemporary fun

By Nancy Raabe
News staff writer

The Birmingham Art Music Alliance has done the seemingly impossible: It has made it cool to do contemporary music.

On a Tuesday night, no less, BAMA packed 'em in at Samford University's Wright Center Recital Hall. OK, so the recital hall only holds 250 people. But it was significant nonetheless that, when the hour came for the show to begin, there wasn't a seat to be had.

Part of the fun is that we're dealing with fresh material that hasn't yet had a chance to stand or succumb to the test of time, so quality as we might perceive it tends to be uneven. Opinions will differ, but for this writer Tuesday's program offered one perfect 10 in the form of Joe L. Alexander's "Infamy...for Tuba and Tape. Premiered last December in Tuscaloosa, the piece is based on a startlingly percussive computer-generated manipulation of the first line of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Dec. 8, 1941, radio speech. This is overlaid with a darkly mournful line intoned with just the right shadings of vibrato by UA faculty tubist Michael Dunn.

Persuasive as well was Dorothy Hindman's "I Have Heard...," a creative and sure-handed treatment of excerpts from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself."

James A. Jensen's "Three Choruses from 'A Lincoln-Whitman Duologue'" showed great firmness of compositional purpose, but one longed for the entire work in its larger original scoring rather than the pared-down version presented rather raggedly here by The Cantors and pianist Brent McWilliams.

Presented by The Cantors, ASFA student Robert Stanton's rhythmic, tightly constructed "Alleluia" revealed an intriguing undercurrent of musical tension, while Rebecca Remley's "From All That Dwell Below the Sky" proved a nicely gauged contemporary realization of Isaac Watts' hymn. To close, cellist Craig Hultgren fearlessly ventured a vivid enactment of Robert Paredes' theatrical "Small Writing."

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BAMA gives vivid glimpse into world of modern music

By Nancy Raabe
News staff writer

It's a mystery, when you stop to think about it, why the serious art music of our time has fallen so far out of favor with the general public.

The same fate has not befallen the visual arts. While modern music in this country flourishes primarily in small enclaves within the sanctity of the ivory tower, entire museums are devoted to modern art. Imagine a world where the same was true of music, and any city worth its salt would boast a full-time orchestra, with an array of support organizations, devoted exclusively to the performance of contemporary works.

We are, however, some distance from this ideal state of affairs. It is thus left to visionary organizations such as the Birmingham Art Music Alliance to broaden our horizons and offer us a glimpse into the rich world of contemporary music.

This BAMA did in superlative fashion Monday night, in Hill Hall on the Birmingham-Southern College campus, at its second concert of the season. While many of us have been in our share of new music concerts that seemed both endless and pointless, BAMA's strength lies in its sure sense of programming. It is a great tribute to the organization that Monday's widely varied concert was arresting and enlightening from start to finish. One left with a renewed appreciation for the astonishing array of languages that collectively comprise our late 20th century musical consciousness.

Outstanding among the nine works on the program were "The New Yorker Songs" by Samford University's James A. Jensen, a sensitive and highly expressive setting of five poems published over the past couple of years in The New Yorker magazine. Each poem projected a strong and compelling affect in this performance by soprano Sherry Lawhon, also on the Samford faculty, and pianist Daniel Lawhon.

Equally rewarding was Michael Coleman's "Room 857" for solo piano, performed by the composer. This brief but memorable work consisted of a simple but deeply affecting exploration of four discrete ideas - a clear, ringing proclamation in the upper register; a gentle and darkly textured arpeggio rising from the instrument's depths; a resounding flourish in the lower register accomplished by reaching inside the instrument and strumming the lowest strings; and, most remarkably, the eerie effect that Coleman unearthed within the decay of this last sound. As the piano's lower strings are vibrating, Coleman discovered that by applying the felts to the strings a new set of overtones can be generated, which causes the sound to well up anew. Repeated several times, the effect clearly astonished many of the 75 or so in the audience.

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Performance at Montevallo was not the same old concert

By Nancy Raabe
News staff writer

We've all been to one too many concerts where the main message was that of sameness. Perhaps it was the same kind of music written in the same style and played the same way, or maybe it was one of those all-Beethoven or all-Brahms programs where sameness, used as a substitute for creative programming, is glorified, even deified.

There are remedies. One is an event like that Monday night at the University of Montevallo, produced by the Birmingham Art Music Alliance, which roused all in need out of the stupor of similarity.

On this occasion, a crowd of about 150 in Montevallo's LeBaron Recital Hall enjoyed a widely varied, thoughtfully designed journey through different modes of contemporary musical thought.

It began with the relative conservatism of the late Harold Beerman's lean, carefully crafted "Impromptu" for flute and piano. UM senior Donald Ashworth and staff accompanist Laurie Middaugh gave voice to the work's modest nobility through close attention to its elegant vertical sonorities.

Progressing toward the more overtly experimental, the evening climaxed with a recreation of Vivian Adelberg Rudow's arresting three-way dialogue for live cello and decorated cello cases, "With Love."

Inspired a decade ago by the similarity between a cello case and a woman's shape, Rudow challenged the observer to decorate two cases in contrasting styles-one as a flamboyant daughter and the other a more conservatively clad mother. With speakers behind each case, she ran "unmarried, spirited" music through the daughter case and, through the mother case, a collage of interviews with 23 people about their own mothers, and mothers with their own thoughts on motherhood.

Positioned between them, the live cellist is called upon to carry on a dialogue with both surrounding characters in musical terms ranging from hyperactivity to blues to a prolonged dreamy ballad. With the skilled contributions of cellist Craig Hultgren, the result on this occasion was at once poignant, whimsical, deeply musical (the spoken words were electronically arranged so as to fit in with surrounding musical rhythms, yet seemed perfectly natural) and outrageously entertaining.

Serving as an appropriate denouement was UM faculty composer Edwin Robertson's richly atonal "Three Movements for Two Pianos." In this committed reading by Jane Gibbs and Norma Dean, each of the concise movements advanced a compelling musical argument from start to finish.

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