On March 26, the Polish Music Center at USC presented a concert of music by young Polish composers residing in the United States, entitled “Polish Music: the New Generation.” Five of the composers arrived in Los Angeles from such faraway places as Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky, as well as from the Bay Area and San Diego, and began the weekend with presentations at the USC Thornton School of Music’s Composition Forum. They included Ewa Trębacz (University of Washington), Krzysztof Wołek (University of Louisville), Jarosław Kapuściński (Stanford University), and Wojtek Blecharz with Robert Pierzak, both from UC San Diego. Mikołaj Górecki was the sixth composer invited to participate but could not attend—he was in Katowice, Poland, attending the world premiere of his orchestral work on that same day (more on the Katowice premiere below).
The program opened with Jarosław Kapuściński’s Juicy, a 2005 work for piano and video. The composer was at the keyboard for the LA premiere of this engaging yet accessible work. Visuals of geometrically arranged fruit appeared and disappeared in time with the well-synchronized and rather melodic post-modern piano accompaniment. The dramatic images and the electronic symbiosis between live musician and pre-recorded video set the tone for the evening’s musical challenges and discoveries for both audience and performers. Watch and listen to a clip of Juicy on the composer's website: www.jaroslawkapuscinski.com/work-juicy.html.
Just one of the setups for the evening's program—which involved live and electronic instruments,
live electronic manipulation,
Mikołaj Górecki’s Sonata for Two Pianos, also dating from 2005, received its world premiere performance during the Newman Hall concert. Sara Sumitami and Aurelien Eulert, a duo of two doctoral students from Thornton’s Keyboard Collaborative Arts department, gave this three-movement work a superb and very assured reading. Performing in splendid synchronicity, Ms. Sumitami and Mr. Eulert imbued the outer movements with poetry and color in contrast with white-hot virtuosity in the central Toccata-Agitato second movement. The work was an audience favorite of the evening, ensuring it a likely spot on other programs in Southern California in the near future.
Pianist Yevgeniy Milyavskiy, who is currently pursuing his doctorate at UCLA and has performed on several other PMC concerts in the past, was the soloist in Robert Pierzak’s 2008 work for piano, I’m Underwater. After thanking the Newman Hall staff and professional sound engineers from AV West, without whom the evening’s complicated technical parameters would not have been met, Pierzak introduced his piece simply with an evocative poem. Whimsical and oft-recurring textures gave I’m Underwater a haunting air, and the requirement for the pianist to sing a simple tune in the final minute added to the unusual listening experience.
The next three works on the program were even more evocative and complex. While all three compositions called for impressive extended performance technique on different wind instruments, Arguro and Minotaur also involved live electronics, surround-sound speakers, and computer-assisted performance. Krzysztof Wołek’s Arguro for Flutes and Live Electronics is a very substantial and yet almost primal work that challenges the performer’s abilities to the utmost. Flutist Michael Matsuno, already an accomplished virtuoso despite his young years, approached the work with gusto as he fearlessly plunged into a thicket of unusual sounds and textures and effortlessly displayed both traditional and extended flute techniques. The range of colors and emotions evoked in the semi-darkened space of Newman Hall was truly astonishing, as the live sounds beautifully created by Mr. Matsuno were masterfully manipulated and blended with pre-recorded sounds by Mr. Wołek at the mixing board.
Com/m/a is a 2008 composition for flute and clarinet by Wojtek Blecharz, who was not only a composer on the program but also one of the masterminds behind the concert’s overarching theme. Blecharz’s intense and fascinating piece was a tour de force for flutist Amy Tatum, a former Thornton student and current rising star on the new music scene in Los Angeles, and clarinetist Eric Jacobs, a Thornton doctoral candidate and devoted teacher. Rhythmic complexity, vivid coloristic technique, and substantial virtuosity are required to perform this work. The soloists and the composer were heartily applauded by the audience who was clearly enthralled by the presentation.
Amy Tatum and Eric Jacobs prepare to perform Com/m/a.
Horn virtuoso Josiah Boothby arrived from Seattle together with Ewa Trębacz, the composer of Minotaur, a 2005 work for horn and ambisonics. Ms. Trębacz is a dedicated researcher of sound-spaces and her music is inspired by recordings in various soundscapes throughout the state of Washington, where she is a visiting lecturer in the UW’s Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS). The envelope of sound—waves of French horn recorded in acoustically-rich environments then reproduced in surround sound—served as point of departure for Mr. Boothby, who utilized a seemingly inexhaustible repertoire of traditional and eerily unusual sounds that he could produce on his instrument. Involving both composer and performer throughout the compositional process, Minotaur provided an excellent example of a truly collaborative work.
The concert of new Polish music ended with another collaborative effort in the form of live improvisation. Filmmaker David Lynch, a great fan of Polish contemporary music, was the evening’s special guest performer. Seated behind two keyboards, he first read a short and evocative poem that set the mood. Soon, over his mysterious-sounding harmonies and sound effects (including city traffic and echoing footsteps), piano textures of various chords and light passagework performed by pianist Marek Żebrowski unfolded. Over the past several years Mr. Żebrowski and Mr. Lynch have performed these improvisatory collaborations throughout the U.S. and Europe, and their recording—entitled Polish Night Music—was issued in 2008 to critical acclaim. Their joint performance at the Polish Music Center’s March 26 concert was, likewise, greeted with warm applause by the USC audience and provided a fitting end to an evening of musical adventure.
A few members of the audience shared their impressions of the concert as they filed out of the hall. “I was quite impressed with Jarek Kapuściński,” said Dr. Carl Muchnick approvingly. “He was the first composer on the program, who connected the video to the piano [in Juicy], and I admired his ability to adjust the images to the music.”
David Lynch congratulates Jarek Kapuściński.
Dr. Eva Muchnick agreed with her husband, adding, “I liked the way the concert started off with Juicy, and how it got the audience in the mood for something special. With all the horrible news of destruction in the world, it was a joy to hear and experience creation by such young and enthusiastic composers—the surround sound, the video images with the musical composition, and virtually all the pieces were so original. It was also heartwarming and encouraging to see and hear young, uniquely talented musicians from all backgrounds play new Polish music. Bravo to all.”
Susan Requa, a teacher in the LA Unified School District, shared these thoughts: “Having attended many of the Polish Music Center’s amazing concerts, this one was a real break from past experiences. Often, we’re listening to works we’re familiar with, that feel comfortable, and enjoying a particular performer’s interpretation, but this concert brought an excitement in not knowing what would come next! I was constantly guessing at what kind of performance or sounds I would be hearing in the next piece since every note was something new. And the talent that had produced such amazing music was there, so you could discuss the piece you just heard with the composer, learning from their creative minds.”
Noted UCLA oncologist, Dr. Bartosz Chmielowski, also seemed to like the program. “I always enjoy coming to the concerts organized by the Polish Music Center,” he said, “but this event was really special. It was the first time that the names of the composers were not known to me before the concert. It was so interesting and exciting: I could listen to the music composed by a new generation of composers. The music was rich and challenging. I was able to listen to the whole spectrum of the new music: from the brilliant but more traditional Sonata by Mikołaj Górecki, through pieces by Robert Pierzak and Wojtek Blecharz who reinterpreted the use of traditional instruments such as piano, flute and clarinet, to compositions by Krzysztof Wołek and Jarek Kapuścinski that enriched and transformed the music by the use of electronics, and finally to the ephemeral piece for the French horn by Ewa Trębacz that combined live music with prerecorded surround sounds. This concert proved that the new composers speak with their own voice.”
Saturday, March 26 @ 4:00 p.m.
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