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Music of Wuorinen
For many decades now, American composer Charles Wuorinen has fought the good fight against tonality and easily accessible music. Through his uncompromising pieces, his writings and his numerous faculty stints at major universities, he has tirelessly championed serialism and other 12-tone methodologies. Although audiences have yet to catch on, he and his partisans (including such luminaries as James Levine and Peter Serkin) continue the effort.
Friday's all-Wuorinen concert at the Library of Congress (the composer turned 70 this year) featured the composer and some of his most dedicated advocates, including cellist Fred Sherry, who has been working with him since the 1960s, and the superb pianist Alan Feinberg. Wuorinen's music features clear architecture and well-defined characters and moods. Although atonal, many of his phrases are anchored to certain pitches, and, unlike Elliott Carter, he conveys recognizable emotional states at times.
The evening's main work, a 1991 setting of Dylan Thomas's "A Winter's Tale" for soprano and six instruments, spanned a vast range of textures and styles. Not mere tone-painting, it was densely argued chamber music that sometimes mirrored and sometimes opposed the text. Soprano Jo Ellen Miller braved its difficulties and sang with ardor and clarion tone. The opening work, a violin sonata commissioned by the Library of Congress in 1988, was played with charming enthusiasm by Feinberg and violinist Mark Steinberg. The house was less than half full, but performances at this level will keep this music alive no matter how much the general culture moves in a different direction.
-- Robert Battey
Love Is All
Love Is All, having tidied up on its second album, "A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night," sounds like a contemporary pop-punk band, though with hints of pre-Beatles rock-and-roll. While Josephine Olausson's voice resembles Bjork's more than Darlene Love's, the Swedish quintet's basic sax bleats, dinky keyboard riffs and be-bop-a-lula harmonies recall a simpler time.
All of that was audible Saturday night at the Rock & Roll Hotel, but just barely. Bashing through such songs as "Sea Sick" and "Movie Romance" -- with nearly every ingredient at the same volume and pitch -- the winningly unstudied band emphasized its kinship with such female-led European post-punk forebears as the Slits, Liliput and Essential Logic. Energetically declaimed and heavily reverbed, Olausson's vocals were central to the band's steel-wool sound, which also featured scratchy rhythm guitar and shouted backup vocals.
As its title suggests, "A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night" includes tales of dread and anxiety. Love Is All, however, doesn't seem capable of brooding. Jettisoning all the slower material in its repertoire -- save for a puckish cover of A Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran (So Far Away)" -- the quintet played fast, loose and barely 40 minutes. Maybe longer sets are one of the things that keep Olausson up at night.
The second-billed Darker My Love alternated between droning psychedelic rock and, uh, less droning psychedelic rock. The latter worked better. At their liveliest, the California quartet's guitar jangle and vocal harmonies evoked the less-discofied side of Britain's '80s "Madchester" scene.
-- Mark Jenkins