The Collage Chamber Series at UNCG presented their fourth and final concert of the year this past Friday. Modeled after the large-scale Collage concert that the School of Music presents every September, these relatively short, light concerts feature members of the music faculty. The atmosphere was more casual than the typical night in the Recital Hall, and the audience was small but extremely responsive.
The night opened with a ballad for oboe, horn and piano by York Bowen. Active in the early 20th century, Bowen was a British composer who is little-known but had considerable success in his lifetime as a musician and composer. His musical sound is unique, but clearly influenced by composers like Chopin and Rachmaninov; in fact, he is considered by many to be the “English Rachmaninov.”
This work in particular featured Ashley Barrett on oboe, Abigail Pack on horn, and James Douglass on piano, three extremely talented members of the music faculty. They each had moments throughout the piece that demonstrated their virtuosity, and they played together cohesively with a well-balanced sound.
The next piece featured on the program was a collection of William Bolcom’s “MiniCabs,” ten extremely short and quaint cabaret songs. James Douglass returned to the stage to accompany baritone Robert Wells, member of the voice faculty. Bolcom is a modern American composer, whose works have been highly celebrated at festivals internationally. Highlights from the “MiniCabs” included “I Feel Good,” “Food Song #1” and “Anyone.” These brief songs were odd but funny and entertaining, eliciting laughter from throughout the audience.
The highlight of the night was easily the performance of Mark Engebretson’s “Luminous,” a piece for tenor saxophone and electronics. Engebretson, a member of the composition faculty, composed this cutting edge piece to encourage audience participation and immerse each individual in the performance experience with a new method: using the audience members’ smartphones. The program notes indicate that the delays of live broadcast allow for “a mesmerizing cascade of sound that has been described as magical.”
The piece was just that: magical. The experience was immersive and intriguing, establishing digital and aural effects that were unique to the particular live performance.
Next came a selection of three of Rachmaninov’s 14 Romances for solo soprano, performed by Julianne Olson with Rachel Bennett accompanying on piano. The three movements provided variety in contrast to one another, with the first being a tumultuous soundscape entitled “The Storm.” Following was the longing “I Remember that Day,” followed by the aptly-named song entitled “Dissonance.”
Julianne Olson, a doctoral candidate of music at UNCG, performed the three selections expertly, her voice floating over each note. Pianist Rachel Bennett offered a reliable but musical foundation, resulting in a truly beautiful collaboration.
The night ended on an energetic note, with UNCG’s Old-Time Ensemble performing a few folk song selections onstage. The Old-Time Ensemble focuses on American traditional music, including folk songs, blues, ballads and original student compositions. The group members performed on a variety of instruments, from fiddle, to ukulele and accordion. Led by prize-winning fiddler Christen Blanton Mack, the ensemble performed familiar tunes with great energy and enthusiasm.
After multiple selections onstage, the concert was technically over. But the Old-Time Ensemble kept playing after they moved into the atrium outside the Recital Hall, providing a bit of an after party to close out the night.
Overall, the concluding concert of the UNCG Collage Chamber Series was a hit, featuring extremely diverse selections that featured the talents of various faculty musicians. Come next fall, be sure to check out the series’s offerings, kicking off with the large-scale Collage concert that inspired it all.