REVIEWBY AMY BRUECKMANSpecial to The Post and Courier
Composer Guo Wenjing had already won over Spoleto audiences with his opera “Feng Yi Ting.”
Thursday’s performance of “Dramas,” part of the final Music in Time series concert, further showcased his talents for creating music to be played by small ensembles.
His percussive showcase shared the program with Tansy Davies’ “Grind Show (unplugged),” an American premiere, and Spoleto Festival Resident Conductor John Kennedy’s “Island in Time.”
“Grind Show (unplugged)” was a jumpy piece for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and prepared piano that revealed “instrumental dialogues of irregular patterns and dances,” to use the composer’s words.
Kennedy then paid tribute to John Cage, emphasizing the importance of time and silence in music. “Island in Time” was scored for low-register instruments such as the alto flute and bass clarinet. The cello was periodically played below the bridge and the alto flute was played in a breathy style, not producing a standard tone. The scraping of the bass drum evoked the sounds of waves and an island breeze as the music faded to an end.
“Dramas,” composed by Guo Wenjing, might just as accurately be named “how to play small, medium and large Chinese cymbals a hundred different ways.” The three percussionists showed that they are masters of rhythm and capable of playing various instruments in many ways.
They scraped, clashed and hit their cymbals, creating a cadenced piece that was addicting to listen to. Because these cymbals have a domed center, they doubled as a sort of drum when hit with mallets and as a clash cymbal with a ringing, wavering pitch when struck on the flat edge. On top of all this, the percussionists yelled, whistled and breathed in sync to their performance, using their own voices as additional instruments.
Wenjing’s style of music is largely influenced by the Sichuan province in China where he was born. “Dramas” follows no clear narrative, but the piece has incredible texture and mimics the pitches of other traditional Chinese instruments.
The audience was entirely captivated by the performance, trying to muffle the sounds of their feet tapping along to the beat. Even John Kennedy, seated in the crowd, was grooving along by the end. Everyone exited the theater with their ears ringing, but the performance was well worth the aftermath.
Amy Brueckman is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.