UTAH PHILHARMONIA, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah, Jan. 29

New music means different things to different composers. Unlike previous eras, contemporary music isn’t defined by one particular set of musical parameters. There is a countless variety of elements and idioms at play in today’s music —  everything from neo-romanticism to cutting edge modernity. Everything is valid and nothing is taboo.

Oftentimes the same composer plays around with different stylistic elements so that there are no distinguishing characteristics that can be identified with the composers. That is the case with Sarah Kirkland Snider. A young American composer, Snider crosses and mixes genres and idioms freely in her works.

Two of Snider’s works were played Wednesday by the Utah Philharmonia under music director Robert Baldwin.

The program opened with Disquiet from 2004. Scored for full orchestra, Disquiet is a lyrical, lushly neo-romantic piece. In its expressions, sweeping lines and changing moods it has an almost film score like character. Baldwin elicited a wonderfully energetic, vibrant, well articulated and nuanced reading from his forces.

The only other work on the program was Snider’s 2008 song cycle Penelope, with texts by Ellen McLaughlin and freely inspired by the Odyssey. The piece is a chamber work with an unusual scoring: violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, horn, trumpet, electric guitar, percussion and electronics. Singing it was indie rocker Shara Worden.

Musically, Penelope is an interesting piece in that it blends rock and classical chamber music —  for the most part successfully. Worden, who gave the concert version premiere in 2010, did a fabulous job with her part. She brought feeling and emotion to the music, singing with eloquence and a wide range of expressions.

The ensemble, made up of Philharmonia players and professionals, played with vitality; and Baldwin brought cohesiveness to the multi-movement, hour-long work.

As good as Penelope is, and as well as it was performed, it loses something when presented as a straightforward concert piece. It becomes rather monotonous and one dimensional; it would benefit greatly if presented as a musical theater/cabaret style piece, as it was, in fact, originally. Even so, Baldwin and the Philharmonia should be lauded for thinking outside the box and offering their audience something different and innovative.

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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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