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On November 13, in Carswell Recital Hall, the Meredith Chamber Players made its debut, performing an all-contemporary program titled "American Composers: Fledgling to Famous." The new ensemble, formed by Meredith faculty members, will presumably be a fluid group, similar to another batch of musicians who have the same (MCP) initials, the Mallarmé Chamber Players. For the debut of Meredith's organization, seven artists were on hand--a vocalist, a flutist, a violinist, a cellist and three pianists, one of whom was also represented as a composer. The college is as fond of long titles as several other institutions of higher learning here, so the program was given under the banner of "2001-2002 Year of Music," sponsored by The Meredith Center for Women in the Arts, a division of the Department of Music, Communication and Theatre. The program, enclosed in a slick red, white, blue and gold cover, contained a list of seven remaining events being offered this season. An insert included notes on the four works performed plus brief bios of the composers.
All that was missing were texts for the opening group of songs, composed by Jody Redhage, currently wrapping up her undergraduate work at UC Berkeley. She is a former student of cellist Virginia Hudson, who seems to have been the chief organizer of this debut concert. Lisa Fredenburgh, whose rich voice filled Carswell with radiant tone, sounds more like a soprano than a mezzo, and she possesses an upper register that allows her to navigate easily into the stratosphere. Redhage's Three Songs are settings of lyrics by her sister, Jill Redhage, scored for voice with violin and cello. The violinist was Dana Friedli, and Hudson was the cellist. The songs themselves are short, consuming only eight minutes from start to finish. The vocal lines are attractive and varied, but the accompaniments are somewhat repetitious, making this listener wonder if the composer has been spending too much time with music by Philip Glass, from whom she has absorbed a bit of minimalism (but not much mysticism). Presumably Redhage fits into the "fledgling" category, and the next work, by Tom L. Lohr, may, too, although its composer is a mature member of the Meredith faculty with some large-scale pieces to his credit. His Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano, composed in 1991 (when he was perhaps a bit more of the fledgling type), was premiered at the NC Museum of Art in June 1992 by the three artists who revived it on this occasion--Pamela Nelson (who was Pam Whitlow back then), Hudson and Lohr himself. The work was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, which has just marked the start of its 60th season. We reviewed the premiere, for another paper, and were impressed with the piece then, as we were again. This time, the slow movement, which seemed the least interesting of the three a decade ago, emerged as a thing of quite remarkable beauty, and the outer two movements were its equal. The performance glowed from within, and Lohr and his colleagues were warmly applauded.
After a brief pause that didn't quite count as an intermission, Friedli, Hudson and pianist Karen Mitchell offered Henry Cowell's late Trio in Nine Short Movements, composed in 1964-5. The master of brevity misled us somewhat with the title, for the nine movements, although reasonably short, individually, wound up consuming almost twenty minutes. Cowell, one of our most innovative composers (it was he who gave us "The Aeolian Harp" and "The Banshee"), seemed to have favored the piano in these trio bits, although there were more than a few moments in the sun for the string players. Mitchell was stunning, and the partnership with the others was strong.
The grand finale, which involved pianist James Fogle, was Norman Dello Joio's impressive Trio (for flute, cello and piano), completed in 1944. It is a straightforward (as opposed to experimental) work that seems, retrospectively, to embody much that was warm and all-encompassing about American concert music at the end of WWII. The introduction is somewhat conventional, which is to say that it probably didn't bother anyone who was present. The slow movement begins tentatively but grows in strength and seems to expand as it flows along. The finale is a jazzy and uplifting treatment of a happy tune that ends quite brilliantly. The work thus provided an altogether positive end for an auspicious beginning of a new series here in the Triangle. To all concerned, Bravo!