Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bielawa Birthday Blowout / Mark Alburger

Looking at the stern, noble portrait of Herb Bielawa that graced the program his 80th-Birthday Composition Concert at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (not the one above -- still searching for a jpg of the cover), one realizes that this friendly and magnanimous gentleman has become a grand old man of Bay-Area contemporary music.

The celebration presentation on February 7 brought a plethora of performers to honor this talented composer, beginning with the Villa Sinfonia Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Roy Oakley, in Bielawa's classic, prize-winning Essay (1958). Hardly a dry academic affair, the music percolated with passion in soulful string writing that kept listeners on the edge of their seats.

This was resonantly and humorously followed by Slide Show, for the trumpeter and two trombonists of the Brassworks Trio (Frank Beau Davis, Don W. Howe, and Christopher Vincenti), where the notes often went one way, while the trombone slides another, in a choreographic tour-de-force that was fun to listen to, too. Sitting on the Beach featured Monique Cooper sitting on the bench of the piano, delivering soulful sounds and a spoken soliloquy of Ogden Nash.

Sojourner Songs upped the vocal ante in a lovely suite of poems by John Gracen Brown, delivered thoughtfully by the San Francisco Choral Artists, under the direction of Magen Solomon. Odyssey brought the composer's organist wife, Sandra Soderlund, to the manual in uncompromising clashes that paid homage to the wilder side of Olivier Messiaen's output.

The evening concluded in the world premiere of Double Think, delivered committedly from the Pierrot ensemble Sounds New (Deborah Schmidt, Richard Mathias, Brooke Aird, Cathy Allen, and Miles Graber), substituting harpsichord for piano, and supplemented by the dulcet tones of soprano Anna Carol Dudley. The text, by Jeannie Pool, proved even more witty in the realization, and a good time was had by all.