ODU Percussion Ensemble
Student Recital: Light vs. Dark
Chandler Hall, April 16, 2015
Review by John Campbell
David Walker, Director of Percussion Studies at Old Dominion University, showcased the teamwork of his percussion students in an exciting evening recital. The program designed around light and dark opened with Catching Shadows by Ivan Trevino (b.1983). Six young men played music inspired by Radio Head, Dave Matthews Band and Earth, Wind and Fire, all for percussion.
Light-sensitive performance dictated when the pieces were played. Waiting for sunset we heard an impromptu performance of a lunch-table set for an honored guest by Mr. Walker, celebrating the soon-to-be graduation of Chad Murray, an off-and-on student for the last eight years. With warmth and humor they exchanged small gifts and riffed using the items on the table as impromptu percussion instruments. It was highly entertaining and fun.
A Dark Knight by all-the-rage composer Hans Zimmer in a James Newton arrangement for strings, was translated into a percussion piece by Walker. Graduate student Dennis Northerner looked really sharp as a costumed and masked Batman playing a barrel drum on the stage center balcony. With skill and passion he joined the ensemble in the intensity of this big drum piece. From the opening deep rumble to bowed xylophone keys, the experience was totally visceral.
The theater was finally dark enough for the Marilyn Bliss (b. 1954) piece Aurora Borealis which celebrated the gossamer curtain of light projected above and behind the ensemble. As they played we were drawn into a meditative reverie by the spiritual presence of this natural beauty.
In Vous Avez du Feu? (Do you have a light?), four players in the dark theater, using two butane cigarette lighters each, created patterns of light and sound in this piece demanding precise coordination. It was reminiscent in feeling of Table Music performed by the percussion ensemble a few seasons back. It was an altogether too brief, intriguing display of light and sound.
The program climax was Dave Hollinden’s (b. 1958) Release. Hollinden is a drum-set oriented composer and the time signatures constantly shift as the motives in this extremely fast-paced score play out. His goal is emotional release: tragedy, fear, longing, and frustration in great bursts of sound, ranging from whittled-down slivers of sound to an all-out sensual assault.
Soprano Bianca Hall & Harpsichordist James W. Kosnik Perform
Chandler Hall, March 25, 2016
Review by John A. Campbell
Titled “HIP Music for Voice, Recorder and Harpsichord,” two music specialists on the faculty of Old Dominion University gave an entertaining and enlightening recital of historically informed performance (HIP).
They opened with Sonata in A minor, Op. 1, No. 1 by Jean Baptiste Loeillet de Gant (1688-1720) with Dr. Hall playing a recorder and Dr. Kosnik on harpsichord. The Loeillets, a family of instrumentalists and composers, were scattered about Europe. Jean-Baptiste became a musician to the Archbishop of Lyons and composed sonate da chiesa for recorder and continuo, with slow movements ornamented in the French style (from the Companion to Baroque Music, compiled and edited by Julie Anne Sadie). The first Adagio was mellow and even in tone. Mr. Kosnik opened the harpsichord lid fully for the Allegro that offered more pep in a duet with the recorder. The piece, with ground bass melody, offers two other movements, the last with a Giga. It was all gentle and charming.
Ms. Hall then sang Ohimè ch’io cado, ohimè (Alas, I am falling! Alas!) by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). In current secular love songs the title might be “falling in love again” since the imagery is of a warrior who has lost the battle once again! To her the faithless lover is a tyrant whose charm is a diamond sword both sharp and cruel. Concluding with this line “Ah, do not deny me your glance and your smile. Because prison for such a good cause would be Paradise for me.” Ms. Hall’s high, piercing voice was startling at first but as my ear adjusted her delivery communicated the text effectively. Her ornamentation was excellent. The translation in the program booklet of the text was literal and in an Italian word order and made little sense.
Jim Kosnik played the French-inspired Suite in A minor written by Johann Jacob Froberger (1616-1667) for solo harpsichord. Though Froberger's music was conservative even in its day, he was able to absorb and transform Italian and French keyboard styles and infuse them with recognizable Germanic intensity of expression—in particular he developed the potential of the allemande, a couple dance popular from the early 16th to the late 18th century. Kosnik’s fluent playing was a pleasure to hear. The melancholy of the opening Allemande gives way to a very rhythmic Courante and closes with a comfortable Sarabande. Dr. Kosnik did his doctoral dissertation on the music of Froberger and he made it an engaging experience for his audience.
Ms. Hall followed with her arrangement of The Ballad of Barbara Allen, the most widely collected song in the English language. The song is a traditional Scottish ballad that traveled to America both orally and in print. The earliest written reference to the song Barbara Allen is in Pepys’ Diary, January 2, 1666. In The Song Index of the Enoch Pratt Free Library there are 27 listings. A 28th is titled Barbary Allen, the way it is often sung in the West Virginia mountains. In the last 100 years it has appeared in books of songs as diverse as Cowboy Lore, The Joan Baez Songbook, Fireside Book of Folk Songs and On the Trail of Negro Folk Songs. Ms. Hall's arrangement grew out of the study of Francis James Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Vols 1-5 (Boston 1882-1898, Revised 1957). Bianca Hall accompanied herself on the cittern—a nine string, strummed instrument. The passionate performance told the story of a man scorned who dies of grief, only to get the girl’s attention at his funeral. She dies the next day of grief. Buried side-by-side, out of one grave grows a rose, the other a brier. They join to form a lover’s knot. Several versions give her the rose but I would give her the brier.
The Plaint from The Fairy Queen written by Henry Purcell (1658/59 - 1695) for voice and harpsichord was unique. The singer used stock gestures from theater productions during Purcell’s day. The high, willowy sound of mourning in “Let me weep for ever” was most moving.
Playing recorder, Ms. Hall joined Mr. Kosnik in G.F. Handel’s (1685-1759) Sonata in D Minor with five engaging movements: Largo, Vivace, A tempo di minuet, Adagio and Alla breve. We saw Handel’s knack for putting new twists on tired, old forms, filling them with his wit, surprises and high-minded drama.
They closed the program with an audience participation piece from the U.S. Civil War—Overtures from Richmond to a march tune that “started life as a jig with Irish roots” according to the BBC. The original folk tune Lilliburlero was reputedly harmonized by Henry Purcell and over time has been used with varying satirical texts. The text is attributed to the ballad collector J.F. Child. The work is based on the Hampton Roads Conference, a peace conference held between the United States and the Confederate States on February 3, 1865, aboard the steamboat River Queen in Hampton Roads harbor, to discuss terms to end the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward, representing the Union, met with three commissioners from the Confederacy: Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, Senator Robert M.T. Hunter, and Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell. Overtures from Richmond is a satire on this meeting with Uncle Sam and Jefferson Davis as the protagonists. The absurdity of Jefferson Davis's demands are outlandish, considering that his side was soon to lose the war: “You're to submit and we are to rule.” “I'll be perpetual King-President.” “You'll pay all costs of the war.”
The program ends with the words “Thank you for coming!” The pleasure was all ours!
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