The concert we meant to be at on the 30th was Musiqa’s performance of Pierrot lunaire and new(er) works by mostly Houston composers.
This was my first live Pierrot, and it was a darn good one. Soprano Karol Bennett was dressed for the part in Pagliacci-like attire, the stage was dramatically lit, and a spectral tree was projected on the backdrop. My only issue was that there could’ve been a little more flutter-tongue from Pierrot where it’s called for, but Bennett’s performance was still highly enjoyable. She even made getting a water glass refilled during a pause entertaining. The ensemble, led by conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, was beautifully lithe and mercurial, hitting their marks with grace and apparent ease.
The second half started with a literal bang – Rob Smith’s athletic showpiece Essential Torque for piano and tape. The piece opened with quiet impressionisms interrupted by huge forearm clusters. With the clusters came the introduction of electronic creakings that sounded like the strained turning of already tight bolts, as if the piano was being held together by the will of its groaning tuning pins. Timothy Hester then ramped up for a virtuoso duo with the tape part in an aggressive, jazzy style that often required bass lines in the piano and tape to stay in perfect lockstep. Hester was nearly flawless and the display was breathlessly exciting.
Pierre Jalbert’s The Invention of the Saxophone took a poem by Billy Collins of the same name as its basis. Picking up on evocative phrases from the narrated poem, the alto saxophone takes its first smoky breaths in an imagined nocturnal Paris “waiting for the invention of jazz.” Saxophonist Valerie Vidal brought a beautifully dusky tone to the piece and was supported nicely by Hester and narrator Rob Bundy.
The remaining two pieces accompanied choreography – a slight, but enjoyable work by Australian Ross Edwards (Ecstatic Dances in an arrangement for violin and alto ‘cello) and the world premiere of Karim Al-Zand’s The Waiting Game. Ecstatic Dances was full of delightful* interplay between the two voices, and a pair of dancers twisted gracefully along, often mirroring or in canon with each other.
The Waiting Game seemed clearly designed in tandem with the dance and drew on illustrative effects and borrowings from Debussy and Ravel. The choreographed scene was slight and a little silly – in one story line, boy meets girl, boy is awkward and ungraceful, they part a little unsatisfied; in the other, girl searches for ideal clothing accessory from a pile, is disappointed, find mystery box, takes great joy in red wig found within. Why these were framed with Blair Witch/X-Files hunting scenes featuring day-glo water pistols is beyond me.
Musiqa has put on some excellent concerts this season. Their roster of composers and performers is largely drawn from the outstanding artist faculty of Rice Univ. and the Univ. of Houston. Each program balances old and new 20th/21st century music and features a non-musical contribution from the Houston arts scene. They finish the 05/06 season May 20th with an educational program revolving around folk music from throughout the world.
*not a word I like to use much, but appropriate here