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Focus! New & Now: A Sampler of Music from 2005, New Juilliard Ensemble, Peter Jay Sharp Theater, New York City, 27.1.2006 (BH)

Akira Nishimura: Chamber Symphony No. 3, Metamorphosis (Western Hemisphere Premiere)

Guus Janssen: Concerto for Three Clarinets and Ensemble (World Premiere)

Jia Daqun: Three Images from Wash Painting (World Premiere)

Roberto Sierra: Bongo+ (World Premiere)

New Juilliard Ensemble

Joel Sachs, Conductor

Vasko Dukovski, Clarinet

Moran Katz, Clarinet

Ismail Lumanovski, Clarinet

Jacob Nissly, Percussion

Eric Roberts, Percussion

“Music is like life itself, sometimes it asks for fast decisions and sometimes it needs to be thought over a lot.” – Guus Janssen, Dutch composer (b. 1951)

This year’s Focus! festival, curated, directed and occasionally conducted by Joel Sachs, is an exhausting survey of works written just last year, and if the initial evening is an indication, it is a year that would be difficult to categorize.  If the works on this program have anything in common, it would be their high quality and from four different parts of the world, to boot: Japan, the Netherlands, China, and Puerto Rico.  Consider Akira Nishimura’s Chamber Symphony No. 3, Metamorphosis, which had not been performed since its premiere in Osaka almost exactly one year ago.  After hearing it just once, well, the rhetorical question would be why?  In a single continuous movement, it is slow moving, a soft blur of unusual, delicate effects intended to evoke “a scene like one’s life, which is passing away as it changes.”  True to its subtitle, there are few recurring themes, only a gentle evolution – a metamorphosis – as it ultimately “fades away toward an invisible domain.”  The New Juilliard Players produced a huge array of sensual colors to illuminate Nishimura’s clouds and ghostly flickers.

In exuberant, jolly contrast, Guus Janssen’s Concerto for Three Clarinets and Ensemble was created partially at the urging of Dr. Sachs, who originally asked Janssen to adapt his Violin Concerto for a clarinet soloist, and then proposed this version for three clarinets.  The score is in eight sections: the even-numbered parts call on the first violinist and the cellist to conduct a divided ensemble in improvisation, but contrary to expectations, the conductor is used to stop the music as opposed to starting it.  In the hands of the instructions Janssen provided, the musicians’ improvisations often created the sensation of the group’s sound mass dissolving or melting.  Meanwhile, in the solo turns, each of the players uses a specific clarinet tradition – klezmer, Balkan and classical – in turn, occasionally joining together in rambunctious, New Orleans-style jubilation.  One of the most enjoyable things about the entire concert was watching the three superb young players, Vasko Dukovski, Moran Katz and Ismail Lumanovski, watching each other in a mixture of curiosity and admiration.

After intermission came another world premiere, Three Images from Wash Painting by Jia Daqun, whose inspiration comes from traditional Chinese painting.  He describes them as follows: “Gong Bi subtle line and point drawing), Jin Ran (delicate dip-dye style), and Po Mo (pure impression and artistic conception described without any ideographic scenery).”  With prominent percussion and marimba, the results were as misty as one might imagine from the title and style of painting.  Octave leaps and open fifths gave it a gauzy transparency.

The blowout finale, a new piece called Bongo+ showcased two sensational percussion players, Jacob Nissly and Eric Roberts, who alternated in the solo part.  The two musicians’ auditions were so equally good, that composer Roberto Sierra approved Dr. Sachs’ dividing the part amongst the two of them.  Sierra writes: “In the case of the bongos, I regard it as an eminently virtuosic instrument capable of producing a wide range of dynamics and many different colors.”  True enough, as Mr. Nissly and Mr. Roberts amply demonstrated in this pulsating score.  With the balance of the New Juilliard players in magnetic, criss-crossing rhythms, the flying fingers of these two gentlemen took center stage.  I hope someone offered them some liniment or heating pads afterward for their (no doubt) aching hands. 



Bruce Hodges



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)