The five chamber compositions that made it to the finals of the Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards were performed for the judges and a large and appreciative audience at the Terrace Theater last night. They were a marvelous and diverse selection from 150 entries.
The $5,000 first prize went to Joseph Schwantner for his septet, "Music of Amber," written for the New York New Music Ensemble and played sensitively by them at this occasion. The 22-minute piece, in two sections, is a reflection on two nature poems Schwantner wrote. He employs a whole gamut of instrumental techniques, the pairing, in unison, of piano and vibes, a lot of string portamento and the eerie sound of bowed vibes. Ostinatos provide a structural skeleton, and the flute and clarinet function both lyrically and percussively. All of this, however, is put together with an almost pastoral gentleness that combines real emotional content with clearly delineated intellectual integrity.
Unable to decide on a clear choice of second and third places, the judges split the two awards, totaling $2,500, equally between Peter Tod Lewis for his "Bricolage" for percussion solo and Ezra Laderman for his string Quartet No. 6.
Steven Schick, the soloist in the Lewis piece, gave the best show of the evening, dancing around his buffet of instruments like a witch about a caldron. The piece's three sections are enormousy varied. For the first, called "Rain," Schick sat with a board on his knees and drummed with his fingers in subtle patterns. A middle section contrasted dry rhythmic passages with the more melodic percussion instruments, and an interlude of taped organlike sonorities spiced with percussion highlights, led to a marchlike conclusion.
The Audubon Quartet gave Laderman's carefully structured, sweet-natured work a fine reading. The five basic thematic elements are stated and then used in all sorts of ways -- dramatically, mechanically and intellectually. It all happens in a single movement, and it is a testimony to Laderman's skill that the music never sounds cluttered or contrived.