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It's worth stressing – again – that we owe it to ourselves to pay close attention to new music, for it is from today's contemporary pieces that the classics of tomorrow will be drawn. Thus it's always a special delight to attend an all-Bill Robinson program such as was given at Meredith College, in Carswell Concert Hall, on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. This is the sixth of these annual undertakings hereabouts and, like its predecessors, this one involved a large cast of distinguished performing artists – and a crowd of passionate fans of this distinctive master's music. Four works were presented, all completed in the past several years. Robinson holds a Ph.D. in physics – and another one, to be sure, in Serene Philosophical Approaches to Contented Living – but there's nothing even vaguely "academic" about his totally approachable and accessible music – no, not a hint of the kind of ivy tower nonsense that turned off music lovers in droves only a few decades ago. This is all GOOD STUFF. And because this concert was streamed live and captured for posterity, it won't be long before everyone – specifically including friends, fans, and lay people who weren't there – can hear the whole thing again, at the composer's website.
On this occasion, Eric Pritchard was the program's alpha and omega, for the concert began and ended with his artistry. The opening piece was a trio for clarinet, viola, and piano titled "From God's Back 40" that was played by Fred Jacobowitz, violist Pritchard (whose day job is as first violinist of the Ciompi Quartet), and pianist Carl Banner, director of Washington Musica Viva.
This 30-minute score in four movements, each cleverly titled (Gimme that Old-Time Tetrachord, Yet Another Waltz, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, and The Albuterol Stomp), received a performance distinguished by the keen attention and apparent insight of the players as they unfolded before our ears this endlessly fascinating score, so beautifully wrought, so inventively penned, and so immediately engaging – and that, along the way, cast Pritchard in a whole new musical light. (Who knew?) There are moments of jollity, passages of serenity, long and sinuous lines for the three instruments, hints of old-time music (perhaps reflecting the composer's time in rural Rowan county), and a genuine shindig toward the end. The response was warm and enthusiastic.
There followed a cello quartet, performed by Richard Clark, Dorothy Wright, Rosalind Goodwin, and James Dietz, all from the Chapel Hill Philharmonia. "Faith No Fear" (the title drawn from an Indian saint) is, like the opener, titled (Turn Off the TV, Watch, Your Breath, and It’s Just a Fun A Time), but the colors and textures are much more closely aligned in this three movement, 15-minute work, since the sounds of winds and keyboard are absent. Instead, there's that wonderful cello sound throughout, heard in myriad ways – solos, of course, that range all over the spectrum plus various combinations up to and including the full ensemble. The artists gave it their all, and the results must surely have gladdened the hearts of all who love these instruments.
Last before the intermission was a set of Miniatures for wind quintet and piano, played by members of the NC Chamber Music Institute (Amy Xu, flute, Hans-Nikolas Romano, oboe, Isabelle Lee, clarinet, Marni Weinreb, bassoon, and Aden McCory, horn) – two high school seniors, two sophomores, and a middle school seventh grader – all representing, as a spokesperson for the program said, "the future of music" in our very midst. The pianist was Kent Lyman, the powerhouse head of the piano department at Meredith. And what a collaboration this was! Here is a whole band in miniature – although truth to tell the three individual components of this three-part set (which begins with a "Farewell Overture") are somewhat more substantial movements that the title might suggest. Lyman was the glue, in a manner of speaking – and that piano part! wow!) – but the young wind players more than held their own as solo artists and keen participants in the ensemble. Here again the response was spirited.
The grand finale was the new Concerto No. 2 for violin, here realized by stellar pianists. Pritchard returned in his customary violin role, gloriously partnered – at two grand pianos – by Randall Love and David Heid. This important work received a performance that was at once spectacularly virtuosic and heartfelt, all 'round. For a more complete discussion of the music, please see this recent review of a rendition at Duke by these same artists written by our colleague Karen Moorman.
Note: Composer Bill Robinson is a regular contributor to CVNC, so yes, we know him – and like his music, too.