Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
It happens all the time. But it is patently unfair for so much contemporary music to get its first notice - to virtually all the audience at least - in one unremitting gulp of new composition.
That's what happened Monday to the works on the opening concert of the Contemporary Music Forum's season at the cavernous Corcoran Gallery.
And to complicate the odds against doing justice to the five works performed was the sulty heat of the not-yet-air-conditioned Corcoran. It's doubtful an Aaron Copland himself could have taken in all the material that was served up under those circumstances.
The basic idea behind the program had considerable merit. It was to take advantage of the considerable spaces of the gallery's huge 100-foot long, two-story atrium by playing works in which spatial juxtapositions were critical. It's the same idea that motivated people like Gabrieli in the 16th century Golden Era of antifonal music at Venice's St. Mark's. But one suspects that the only similarity that Monday's circumstances shared with St. Mark's was the heat.
Monday's works dealth with the possibilities of flexible space in strikingly contrasting ways.
The first was John Felice's "An American Ceremony," a Hopi Indian-derived work in which unaccompanied clarinet soloist Stephen Bates had the freedom to wander all around the Corcoran with music stands placed in more than a half dozen sites.
The piece was lyric and affecting - but after awhile one did begin to concentrate more on when Bates was going to walk past you again, that upon the music itself. But let's not get carried away with this problem. The last five notes themselves were of a poignance to help compensate for the fact that the piece was basically too long.
Except for one other composition, the program was one of percussion-dominated pieces - with the drums, etc. juxtaposed against solo wind instruments place widely in the atrium's mezzanine and at the head of the staircase to the Lincoln Gallery.
One was surprised that the work that made the deepest impression under these difficult circumstances was "Soundscape I" by Ulf Grahn, which was first performed in 1973 at the National Collection of Fine Arts.
The really superb percussion get-up of Richmond-based performer Donald Bick was placed in the center of the atrium, and his stenuous Bartok-like nucleus was played against Al Gifford's flute in one direction, James Ostryniec's English horn in another and Stephen Bates in the other.
It came as a surprise that this was the high point of the concert - not a work or a composer of whom this observer had ever heard. The reason is that the best-known composer was Jacob Druckman, the Pulitzer prize-winner whose rather hokey "Animus II" ended the evening. One wonders if it got a fair hearing. The audience was sweating and exhausted. I recall hearing another work by the same composer several years ago by the New York Philharmonic under Boulez and regarding it as a potential masterpiece. Maybe "Animus II" just didn't get fair play.