Last night's concert of the Contemporary Music Forum featured new music by Swiss composers, some of it fascinating. But it was the voice of a new American composer that dominated the evening and drew the most extended applause from the capacity crowd at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. His name is James D. Wagoner, and the world premiere of his "Achilles" unveiled a score of profound beauty.
The wrath of Achilles is its theme, but the heart of its music and program lies much closer to Plato's than to Homer's Trojan War. In seven movements the sounds weave the tale of how the hero Achilles loved and lost his lover Patroclus; of his anger and desolation which led to Hector's death; and of ineffable, inescapable fate. It is scored with uncanny rhythmic clarity for flute, violin and piano, and both ideas and emotions are never far beneath the cool structure of the music. Some of the piano writing, brilliantly executed by Barbro Dahlman, recalled the rich insistence of Messiaen. And the violin and flute parts, in the hands of Helmut Braunlich and Katherine Hay, raised disturbing questions about the affinity of passion and violence, of love and death.
Wagoner's "Achilles" recalled the atmosphere of Henze's "Orpheus" with more economy of means. His melodies captured that modern dilemma of living with a romantic sensibility when the times only force us to see feeling as a pose. The composer hopes to develop this score into a full-length ballet, and one can only marvel at the musical and choreographic possibilities. He should also keep this suite, though; it is a very beautiful work.
The clinical iciness of a 1967 "Brief Encounter" by Rudolf Kelterborn was almost saved by Hay's flute and Gary Marion's clarinet. Harley Gaber's "Koku" tried to capture the intensity and silence of the Noh theater in the solo flute, but it was too short to allow the listener to reap the rewards of the patience the score demanded. The concert also included the haunting 1952 "Lyrische Musik" by Willy Burkhard; and something loud and uninteresting by Hans Ulrich Lehman called "Bringen un zu kommen."