"Seven Revolutionary Decades" is the title of the two-concert series that pianist Carla Hubner brought to the Hirshhorn Museum over the weekend. She built the program originally for her New York Debut two years ago and subsequently took it to London, so it has been well aged.
As one might expect, this is a program of music written in this century, beginning with Debussy, Schoenberg and Scriabin, and traveling a journey replete with both fascinations and frustrations, to the more recent music of Crumb, Hellermann and Hovda. It is necessarily a subjective selection that includes both proven master-pieces and works that are, as yet, just promising, and it might more aptly be titled, "Seven Evolutionary Decades."
These concerts were a study of a language in the process of change. Debussy, Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Scriabin, Ginastera, Messiaen, Bartok and Crumb did not throw out the old order. They stretched it, found new possibilities by extending it, by restructing it. They used the old language in new ways.
As so often happens, some molded the language to suit their ideas. Stockhausen's "Klavierstuck IX" projects the contrasts of light and dark with tremendous power. Hellermann's slowly unfolding row evolves hypnotically through a changing pattern of accents. It goes on too long and loses its impact before folding up again, but it is an intriguing piece. And of course, Crumb's "Makrokosmos" selections, with its amplified resonances, goes one step further in exploration of the piano's possibilities.
Others have become servants of the techniques they have experimented with, constructing music as a vehicle for the instrument. Cage's "The Perilous Night" is one example of this. It is clever. The piano does sound like a lot of other things, including a gamelan band, but this fact does not make it artistically interesting.
Hovda's "Spring Music With Wind," a piece played entirely on the strings (as opposed to on the keys) also sounds like a technique in search of an idea, although the techniques are used with delicacy and a nice sense of linear movement. But Bedford's "Piano Piece II," strings and then in which four bottles are ceremoniously placed on the strings and then nudged so that they buzz, does not even appear to be in search of an idea.
The old guard of the revolution-evolution, Debussy, Schoenberg, Messiaen, and Bartok, are firmly entrenched. Of the new guard on this program, the most impressive was Davidovsky and his "Synchronisms No. 6" for piano and tape used as a single instrument, the tape merely extending the possibilities of the piano's attacks, resonances and timbres. It is a marvelous piece.
Constructing a set of programs like these is a scholarly feat, and performing them is a tour de force. Miss Hubner is to be congratulated.