William Kraft's "Veil and Variations" for Horn and Orchestra and Ralph Shapey's Concerto for Cello, Piano and Orchestra tied for first place in the Friedheim Competition completed yesterday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Daron Aric Hagen's "Common Ground" won second place; third went to Frederick Bianchi's "The Rauschenberg Variations." Each of the works was performed yesterday by the Mannes College of Music Orchestra. The four composers shared $11,500 in prize money.
After weeks of scrutinizing more that 115 American orchestral compositions written in the past two years and narrowing the field to these four, the three-judge panel responded with no great surprises, no scandalous errors of judgment.
Kraft, who won second prize in 1984 for his Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra, arguably composed the most well-rounded submission of the four. His richly orchestrated score with its ever-changing textures left an indelible mark on the audience, and the virtuoso horn playing of Jeff von der Schmidt, whose lines darted and weaved throughout the musical tapestry, could only have impressed the jurors.
Shapey's concerto was equally compelling, for different reasons. Uncompromising atonality, even when crafted with obvious skill, still sits a little heavy on one's sensibilities, and this work was intense from first note to last. Still, future performances -- ideally with Sunday's soloists, cellist Scott Kluksdahl and pianist Florence Millet -- will reveal the same intricacies the jurors glimpsed after several hearings.
Kraft and Shapey are old masters at the art of composition, and both have had long years to find their voices and perfect their styles. But yesterday's competition unveiled the talent of two young American composers who need stand in no one's shadow.
Bianchi's work was a magnificent mosaic -- a large-scale mass of music that hovered and enlarged, full of inner voices that fail to give clear articulation until they burst through the wall of sound. One was reminded of Brahms and Martinu but ultimately heard Bianchi.
Hagen's "Common Ground," excerpted from his second symphony, was the most diatonic work of the final four and without question the most accessible. His superbly uncommon orchestrations served the somewhat common material well, and a little more work on thematic development might have snatched him first place.