New Music Greensboro recently presented a concert in the Recital Hall, featuring special guest and alumnus Michael Hall playing viola. The New Music Greensboro program considers itself to be Greensboro’s premier presenter of cutting edge new music, and this particular concert featured compositions by the UNCG faculty composers, among a few other prevalent composers of contemporary music.
For Michael Hall, a concert full of new music is fitting. He is a strong proponent for the art of collaboration and frequently commissions works by current composers all over the world. As an internationally recognized viola soloist and teacher, he has had over 40 compositions written for him to date.
The Tuesday evening concert opened with a work by Kee Yong Chong, who is considered to be one of Malaysia’s leading contemporary composers. The brief work is entitled “Temple bell still ringing in my heart…” and aims to blur the lines between the performer and instrument. Alone on the stage with viola in hand, Hall performed this brief but effective piece with a serious tone, making the best case for both his vocal and instrumental expressions.
Next was the world premiere of “Transparent Sun,” a piece for viola and piano by faculty composer Alejandro Rutty. The work aims to contrast the intensity and energy of the sun with the faintness and presence of transparency through melodic lines that exemplify both characters. The rich and vibrant timbre of the viola truly came through in Hall’s performance, accompanied by pianist Inara Zandmane.
Violin faculty member Fabian Lopez took the stage with Zandmane for the last piece prior to the intermission, a sonata by composer and music theory professor Gregory Carroll. The three-movement sonata, composed in 2008 particularly for Lopez and Zandmane, has a Eastern European flavor.
The first movement, entitled “Dance Episodes,” consists of different dance styles, with the authentic rhythms of the Spanish habanera to the quick Italian tarantella. The “Arioso” follows the first movement, with a long lyrical lines based off of a three-note gesture in the opening. This provides great contrast to the final movement, a Scherzo, which pushes forward and has a great sense of urgency to the finish. Lopez played with great efficiency and virtuosity, exemplified in the cadenza near the end of the piece.
After a brief intermission, Hall returned to the stage to play the powerful piece “A Boy and a Makeshift Toy,” written for him by Mary Kouyoumdjian. Part of a greater series entitled “Children of Conflict,” this piece is a portrait of a young Albanian refugee playing in an abandoned train station. These sonic portraits are inspired by war photographer Chris Hondros’s images in children in the midst of war and are a powerful aural image. Hall’s playing was intentional in every moment, making its execution extremely effective.
The next piece on the program was a standout for its uniqueness and incorporation of multiple mediums. Based on a poem by Dana Richardson, “Where Does Love Go?” is a piece by faculty composer Mark Engebretson for solo viola and live electronics, including recorded voices. This performance also included film and choreography, making it extremely interesting to consume. The effects are controlled improvisationally, following the contour Hall’s solo performance. In his program notes, Engebretson says that the composition of this piece was “a search for the creation of meaningful sounds in a context where so much is possible.” In this performance, Hall definitely succeeded in creating meaningful sounds, pushing the boundaries of what was truly possible.
Closing the program were two contrasting pieces, the first being bassoon professor Michael Burns’s reworking of his composition “Moods/Modes” for viola and piano. Inspired by Michael Hall, Burns rearranged this piece for viola, as it was originally for horn. The piece explores the harmonic series of the horn but in a melodic way.
Last on the program was Marta Ptaszynska’s “Elegia,” which was written for Michael Hall in dedication to the memory of Pope John Paul II. Based on an old Icelandic prayer folk song, the solo viola work provided a peaceful and intriguing conclusion to the recital.
Michael Hall’s viola playing is truly exemplary, and his contributions to the classical world of new music are numerous. Deemed a distinguished alumni of UNCG in 2015, Hall is one of the great violists and educators of our time.