Inquisitive children sooner or later announce to their parents, “We have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Why isn’t there Kids’ Day?”
The usual response is, “Because every day is Kids’ Day.”
Similar reasoning explains why some classical music groups present entire concerts of music by composers who are alive, female and/or people of color.
Because every concert is a dead white guy’s concert.
On Saturday, Camarada presented “Music, She Wrote,” a program of women composers at Bread & Salt. Half of them are living, and one — Chelsea Komschlies — was there in person.
Komschlies’ “Steam” for flute and clarinet was inspired by steampunk. Her musical portrayals of gears and Vernian flying machines were not readily apparent, but the bright, confident melodies, the playfulness between instruments, and the propulsive rhythms (many listeners’ heads bobbed along) made “Steam” an audience favorite. It was engagingly played by flutist Beth Ross-Buckley and clarinetist Sheryl Renk.
Komschlies was just 21 when she composed “Steam,” and six years later (judging from her recordings online) her harmonic palette has expanded and her forms are more adventurous — an encouraging step to finding her own voice.
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s “Fantasy” for solo violin (2014) is more enjoyably unpredictable than older works of hers. Its harmonies and rhythms are conservative, but there’s a mercurial aspect to the piece not usually encountered in her music. Violinist David Buckley’s performance, while technically accurate, was a little too matter-of-fact; it would have benefited from freer rhythms and exaggerated dynamics.
Ross-Buckley and Renk were joined by pianist Dana Burnett for a performance of “Barn Dances” by Libby Larsen. Despite the energy they put into their rendition, Larsen’s invocation of popular American dance forms is a mixed bag. The first movement, a fast hoe-down spruced up with chromatic harmonies, is the most engaging. “Rattlesnake Twist,” the last movement, sounded like a tepid evocation of Bartok’s barbarous allegro style, undermined by square rhythms.
Larsen’s “Fanfare for the Women” was given a hearty reading by solo trumpeter Ray Nowak. Larsen plays with the interval of a fourth — a staple of fanfares — but the work itself sounded disappointingly generic. Perhaps it needs to be performed in a larger space with a long reverb, such as the basketball arena for which it was composed.
More adventurous musical innovation was heard by the historical composers on the program. The “Trio Sonata no. 2 in B flat” by the ridiculously talented Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was given a note-accurate performance by Ross-Buckley, Buckley, cellist Joanna Morrison-Pernela and Burnett on an electronic keyboard. It would have opened up more with creative ornamentation of the solo parts.
Hildegard von Bingen’s two-voice harmony was part of an enormous leap in the evolution of notated European music. An instrumental arrangement of an excerpt from her 12th-century “Spiritu Sancto” still has the power to enchant 21st-century ears; this was well played by Ross-Buckley and Morrison-Pernela.
Morrison-Pernela and Burnett joined for a lovely performance of the “Fantasie in G minor” by Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn (Felix’s sister).
Ideally, every classical concert should have a work composed by someone other than a dead white guy. Until that time, concerts like this are both enlightening and a necessary corrective.
Hertzog is a freelance writer.