IMP’s “Music of the Hyperspheres” showcases talented student composers

The Independent Music Project provides a forum for budding composers and musicians to share their talent, receive constructive criticism and encouragement, and perform their original works. This semester’s efforts resulted in the excellent concert last Saturday night entitled “Music of the Hyperspheres.” Playing to a nearly full Brooks-Rogers audience, the composers and performers impressed the audience with the depth of their musical talent.

The history of IMP is surprisingly short, considering its visibility on campus this year. Founded two years ago by Michael Veloso ’98 and Kenric Taylor ’00, its original purpose was to provide an opportunity for performances of original classical works by students. IMP is also independent of the Music Department, allowing the students more freedom. This is not to say that IMP has not had the support of the Music Department; on the contrary, the Music Department remains a source of encouragement for the young composers.

According to Andrea Mazzariello ’00, one of IMP’s coordinators this year, IMP is very liberating for composers. “I can pretty much write anything I want and it’s guaranteed a play. . .a score never has to go through the aesthetic judgment stage by anyone else,” he said.

Judd Greenstein ’01, another IMP coordinator, agreed. “IMP has a great attitude. We are open to people with any level of composition experience, and we encourage composers to get their works on the concerts. Our meetings generally turn into debates on some musical topic, and this is very exciting to those of us who love such discussions and don’t really get them anywhere else,” he said.

Becoming a part of IMP is very simple: merely get in touch with any member, and attend a meeting. “[IMP] works like this: we set a date, we reserve the space. Then it’s a free-for-all. There are no deadlines, no official procedures,” said Mazarriello. The only restriction is that the pieces be classical, but “within that genre there are a million things you can do,” Greenstein said.

IMP has already made an impact on Williams, as evidenced by the large crowd at the “Music of the Hyperspheres” concert on Saturday. For all those present, it was clear that IMP boasts some extremely competent student composers.

Josh Lawton ’97 directed his two pieces for clarinet quartet (consisting of two violins, a cello and a clarinet), “Two Portraits: Design and Caprice.” In the program notes, Lawton wrote that his pieces “originated partly from an exercise in composing for string quartet, and partly from an attempt to craft a musical composition reflecting two philosophical models, Platonic and Kantian.” “Design” began with two violins playing sparsely in unexpected intervals, with the clarinet and cello playing in unison. The piece, mainly split between these two groups of instruments, passed the melody back and forth, repeating an eighth-eighth quarter note motif and occasionally spreading out into absolutely languid chords. “Caprice” started off with a powerful succession of unison chords ending abruptly to lead to a beautiful middle section accentuated with trills and quick pizzicatos played against the backdrop of repeated eighth notes. Exceptional in this piece was an inventive and playful clarinet solo played excellently by Jon Salter ’02. The return to the long tones was a restful one, and its quick ending was refreshing.

Two movements from Greenstein’s award-winning “Suite for Piano” were exceptionally good. The first piece, “Line,” is described by Greenstein as “completely monophonic,” with only one note being played at any time. The single solitary melody that spanned a great deal of the keyboard showed character and color, at times hopeful but retreating always into sadness. The urgency created by this singular melody led directly without pause into “Motion 2.” Greenstein had been working on Prokofiev while writing this piece, and Prokofiev’s influence is clear. Greenstein played the characteristic dark chords interspersed with rolling melodies with ease. In the middle section, small pieces of melody played by the left hand were answered by chords that seemed to grow increasingly more discordant, until the piece with its insistent melody ended in a series of loud bursts of chords.

Allegra Martin ’99, also an award-winning composer, intended her first piece, “Reflection on the fly that was beating itself to death against the fluorescent lamp in my philosophy class,” to express exactly that sentiment. She succeeded, as Jess Robbins ’01 on flute accurately depicted the repeated beating of the fly’s wings on repeated F’s. The melody played by Robbins was hopeful yet dark, with Martin’s piano accompaniment offering a peaceful respite for inspired reflection on life and death. Martin’s second piece, “Anchorless,” featuring Kristin Dissinger ’01 on cello, was, according to the program notes, “derived from the fact that while the piece is loosely based in C, the cello never plays the tonic.” This heavy sonorous solo therefore lent itself to a sense of subconscious anticipation from the audience. I was spellbound as the piece wove itself amazingly without the cello ever playing C. I kept expecting to hear it, but was always left waiting. Martin’s ability to achieve this sort of reaction in her listeners was wonderful.

The solo piano suite “Of Friends” by Annaliis Abrego ’01 was a pleasing and tonal respite from the more conventional discord of modern classical music. Her first piece, “Narcissus,” featured repeated rolling of chords passing from hand to hand and a pretty melody that was accentuated and replayed. “Narcissus” was followed by “Tempests,” which began with a nice left-hand lead that led to repeated triads in the right hand. Abrego’s third piece, “Dawning,” was her best work, and her most complex. The right hand followed a sparse and minor left-hand lead with a cloud of chords. The piece built up, subdivided and blossomed, living up to its title.

Perhaps the most unique and interesting piece of the night was Greg Bloch ’99’s “Three Musical Games.” This piece was prefaced with Bloch’s comment that he had not allowed his performers to practice together, which led to some laughter in the audience at the performers’ facial expressions. Bloch’s emphasis on performance became even more apparent by the set-up of the instruments. Bloch himself directed from a school chair, complete with a small desk. All of Bloch’s “Games” began and ended with the blowing of a whistle, after which the instruments, consisting of a trombone, a piano, a clarinet and a cello (deliberately chosen to reflect the four instrumental groups) literally seemed to enact a game, bouncing notes back and forth, at times in accord and sometimes fighting one another.

Dan Perttu ’01 wrote in his program notes that his two solo piano pieces, “A Wash of Tones” and “Optimism” were “merely small experiments in composition.” While perhaps intended as experiments, the pieces reflected an honest beauty reminiscent of Debussy’s shorter works. The blanket of sound in “A Wash of Tones” created by descending chords was atmospheric and lovely. Perttu himself is a talented and careful performer, and the pieces reflected the same deliberation in his musical style. His second piece, “Optimism,” relied on a right-hand melody and left-hand chords. The moments of self-realization in this piece revealed themselves in a way that was both beautiful and strangely reassuring.

The award-winning choral piece “A Birthday,” written by Martin, was sung a cappella. The piece used the words from the poem in effective ways, with syllables creating interesting rhythms and percussive effects. This piece’s beauty was exceptional for its originality and serene quality. The harmonious blending of female voices was a nice contrast to the previous instrumental pieces.

Mazzariello’s piece for solo flute, entitled “Reserve,” featured Robbins. There was something very impressive about a single flautist standing alone in the middle of the stage. It is clear that Mazzariello understands the importance of silence within a piece, as Robbins executed beautifully the melody that relied as much on rests as it did on moving notes. This piece kept the audience on their toes with jumps and turns, and Robbins herself seemed to lose herself in each single note that floated to the ceiling. An achingly high and beautiful note was a tender end to a truly virtuoso work.

The finale of the evening was Greenstein’s “Epilogue: Homage to Alfred Schnittke.” The piece featured two violins, a viola, a cello, a double bass, a clarinet, a horn and a bassoon. This elaborate piece was the perfect ending to the concert. Based on a barcarole boat-type motif, the piece started out with a sense of melancholy, building little by little, passing the motif from instrument to instrument. Greenstein’s choice of instruments was very astute, as the combination gave both power and beauty in rather epic proportions. At times ethereal and overwhelmingly strong, the piece was amazing. The boat-like rhythm appeared again and again, with the piece gaining impetus with larger and more complex chords until, like a storm, the work receded and narrowed to a single melodic line played by the first violin, fading into silence.

It is clear that IMP serves a need on campus. “Something that people don’t often recognize is that artists need others of their kind for support and to help get the creative juices flowing,” Greenstein said. “Composers spend a lot of time alone, and it can become very difficult. IMP provides a place for validation, where composers can talk to each other about what they’re doing. It’s really important for us.”