U-Md. Student Composers Stand Apart

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Certain similarities marked the four winning pieces in this year's Walsum Competition, which calls for student composers at the University of Maryland to submit a work for string quartet. The prize winners reached frequently for high harmonics, contrasted close-interval trills with long-held notes, and mixed a few consonant harmonies into a generally post-tonal texture to keep the audience guessing. (And yes, the resemblances were a little wearying by concert's end.) But as rendered in vivid and committed performances by the Left Bank Quartet on Sunday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, the means the four composers used to organize and deploy their material differed in intriguing ways.

Asha Srinivasan's "Kalpitha" borrowed tones and concepts from Carnatic music (the classical music of southern India) and harnessed them to a simple yet compelling structure: launching with two driving harmonic ideas, opposing them to a static plateau and resolving the conflict through rhythmic workout. Contrasts drove Altin Volaj's "Phos II" as well, but the intended contrast was between lightness and darkness; the subjectivity of the ideas (what sounds light to me may seem dark to you) and the multiplicity of methods Volaj employed made the overall effect a little gray.

In "The Rose of Sharon Blossoms," Hyun-Sun Suh distorted the Korean melody with eerie Shostakovichesque stirs and echoes. Nathan Lincoln-Decusatis's "Quinta Corda" felt like a kind of kaleidoscope, as each moment brought a shift in the harmonic feel and flow, from jazzy licks to piled-up counterpoint to independent chords. The piece even ended with a gesture cut off in midair, like a child putting down a toy and wandering away.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

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