By Ted AYALA
At some point after 1930, the straight line of musical modernism began to stress and splinter. By the 1970s it shattered altogether.
Modernism has never stopped, of course. But what it meant to be a “modernist” or to be a “contemporary composer” went through a profound shift. The path leading to a contemporary language seemed to explode into a mufti-forked crossroads where the path to the past proved as valid as the one into the future. It was a situation that the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, in a late 1990s interview with the now-defunct “Pulse! Magazine,” once likened to as having a toy chest from which one could draw anything.
Some of the best attributes of the eclecticism that informs so much of contemporary music today were on recent display at the Synchromy concert at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music. Here were six composers who each have given careful consideration to the meaning of their craft. Does one exploit it in order to explore sound for the sake of its own beauty and meaning alone? Or to engage with audiences by composing music in recognizable forms and harmonies that don’t alienate them? Or is it to use the familiar and well known in order to subvert them for purposes that are extra-musical as much as musical?
The works of Eric Guinivan, Damian Montano, Ed Martin and David Lefkowitz probed those questions in varying ways, their answers speaking of sensibilities that hone in on the austere and astringent, such as in the works by Guinivan and Martin, or the easy-going and playful, as with Montano and Lefkowitz.
The finest works on the program were also two that were very different from each other.
Jason Barabba’s “Non mi portì a Funkytown?” was a superb example of the latter, a delicious send-up-cum-mash-up of a bobbin-laced brocade pavane with gaudy polyester disco complete with leering disco whistle-like glissandi on the strings. It was like Mauricio Kagel meets Micheal Praetorius meets Giorgio Moroder after they did a couple lines and then busted a move at Studio 54.
Opposite was Jenni Brandon’s “The Dreams of Birds” for alto flute and piano. A gorgeous piece where birdcalls comprise the core of its melodic impulse, albeit birdcalls refracted through a dreamy, stylized Ravelian lens.
At the core of the performers were the duo of Kevin Kwan Loucks (piano) and Irina Krechkovsky (violin), augmented by Johanna Borenstein (flute), and Joo Lee (cello). Their technique was impeccable, their commitment to the composers and the scores just as sound.