The great thing about working in academia is that individuals can grow an idea from the ground up. University of Maryland cello professor Evelyn Elsing conceived the Kirchner Project when she heard a recording of American composer Leon Kirchner's Music for Cello and Orchestra. Elsing was immediately taken with the music and arranged an opportunity to perform it with the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra. The concept quickly mushroomed into a second concert devoted to Kirchner's chamber music, which was performed Tuesday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
The 85-year-old subject was unable to attend -- he was off conducting another concert of his works. Still, the musical content was sufficiently rich to get a clear snapshot of this man's chamber music oeuvre.
Kirchner seems most at home writing for strings, and the university string faculty was quite comfortable playing his music. For Solo Violin is a standout piece, and it received a stellar performance by James Stern.
The Piano Trio No. 2, composed in 1993, positively drips romanticism, a nod perhaps to Rachmaninoff and Brahms. Though the structure of the work focused on rich harmonies rather than hummable melodies, violinist David Salness, cellist Elsing and pianist Larissa Dedova performed their parts with gusto.
In "Music for Twelve," conductor James Ross handled the ensemble of winds, strings and piano adeptly. However, the complete lack of dynamic contrast, except for Kirchner's signature subtle conclusion, detracted from the brilliant solo and ensemble scoring.
Though it was scored for just three brass instruments, "Fanfare," played by Chris Gekker and Janine Leyser, trumpets, and Gregory Miller, horn, the performance was too loud for the intimate recital hall. It was a quintessential representative of the genre, with a moderate tempo and a multitude of repeated notes.
The esoteric 1973 "Flutings for Paula" for flute and percussion was not so much a duet as two dissimilar instruments playing at the same time, like juggling a watermelon and a pencil. The work, played by William Montgomery and Andrew Kreysa, was very much a child of its time, incorporating the angular atonal leaps similar to gestures heard in other works of the early '70s.
Kirchner's 1982 song cycle on poems of Emily Dickinson, "The Twilight Stood," was a dense setting of four bucolic texts. Soprano Waka Yoshioka made the most of the composer's text painting in a powerful and dramatic performance.
The Kirchner Project concludes tomorrow night, when Elsing performs Kirchner's Music for Cello and Orchestra with the university's Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Ross at the Clarice Smith center.