NOVA CHAMBER MUSIC SERIES, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, April 27

One might not think contemporary music and the works of Mozart go together, but that’s the pairing the NOVA Chamber Music Series decided to go with to close its season. And it worked splendidly.

The focal point of Sunday’s concert was Utah composer Bruce Quaglia, who was represented with three works, including the premiere of a NOVA commission.

The commissioned work, L’Acqua Alta, is a veritable tour de force for soloists Jason Hardink, piano, and Brant Bayless, viola, as well as for the 14-member ensemble (consisting of woodwinds, brass and percussion).

Quaglia, who teaches at the University of Utah, writes in an intense musical language with complex, dissonant harmonies, angular lines, motivic/thematic fragments and vibrant rhythmic patterns. These are all present in L’Acqua Alta. The frenetic energy in the work makes it an engrossing piece that’s mesmerizing and utterly fascinating.

The players, all Utah Symphony members except for bass clarinetist Matthew Nelson, gave a compelling account of the work under the baton of guest conductor Timothy Weiss, a notable exponent of modern music. The work is structured so that the ensemble and the two soloists constantly play off each other. It demands precision and that is what Weiss coaxed out of his players. It was an explosion of sound that was wonderfully articulated and executed.

The two other pieces by Quaglia — Passaggio Scuro for solo piano and Through the Dark Passage and the Canyon Below… for violin, flute and clarinet — exhibit much of the same characteristics as L’Acqua Alta. Hardink, who is also NOVA’s artistic director, gave a virtuosic reading of the former, while Utah Symphony members David Langr, violin, and Lisa Byrnes, flute, along with Nelson, gave a cohesive and transparent account of the latter.

A work by Mozart closed each half of the concert.

Before intermission, Hardink and Bayless teamed up with Utah Symphony colleague Lee Livengood, clarinet, for a glorious reading of the Kegelstatt Trio, K. 498. An unusual scoring for the time, the work is without doubt one of Mozart’s great chamber works. Its harmonic language is rich and textured and there is a unity of purpose in each of the three movements.

The three players gave a well rounded, beautifully articulated account that captured the expansiveness of the work perfectly. There was eloquence in the manner in which they treated the material — it was nuanced and gorgeously expressive.

The Serenade for Winds in E flat major, K. 375, that concluded the concert was no less remarkable for the thoughtful and sensitive playing of the sextet of musicians (Utah Symphony members Robert Stephenson and Lissa Stolz, oboe; Livengood, clarinet; Ron Beitel and Llewellyn Humphreys, horn; and Lori Wike and Leon Chodos, bassoon; along with clarinetist Nelson). They gave a wonderfully lyrical and expressive account that was crisp, clean and fluid.

Rounding out the program were two short pieces by Utah Symphony associate bass Corbin Johnston that contrasted nicely with Quaglia’s works.

Johnston’s Viola and Piano (one application) is a virtuosic piece for both players (Hardink and Bayless), while 5.3 |2| (blind date) is a melodious/cacophonous melange. The latter featured Hardink’s debut on the accordion. He was joined by Bayless, Chodos, Beitel and Humphreys in a musical free for all that contained a good deal of wit and humor.

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About Edward Reichel

Edward Reichel, author, writer and composer, has been covering the classical music scene in Utah since 1997. For many years he served as the primary music critic for the Deseret News. He has also written for a number of publications, including Chamber Music Magazine, OPERA Magazine, 15 Bytes, Park City Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He can be reached at ed.reichel@gmail.com. Reichel Recommends is also on Twitter @ReichelArts.

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