Ensemble Schumann Premieres New Works By Professor Dan Roman

Last Friday, Oct. 20, Trinity College’s Department of Music presented aspecialperformanceby Ensemble Schumann in the Gruss Music Center. The Ensemble, composed of oboist Thomas Gallant, pianist Sally Pinkas, and violinist Steve Larson have been touring and performing together for some years. Though their area of musical expertise and interest is largely based in the realms of Classical and Romantic period music, they also performed the world premiere of a composition by Associate Professor of Music Dan Román.
Gallant, Larson and Pinkas are performers of the highest caliber. Their first selection was an adaptation from nineteenth-century composer Max Bruch’s Op. 83. The graceful, haunting lull of Gallant’s oboe stood out in these compositions. Bruch’s work, already charged with many emotional swings between the melancholy and joyful, only deepened in this superb live performance. Bruch’s melodies, which are said to be derived from folk-music, were the gentlest sounds of the evening.
The next selection was chosen from August Klughardt’s Schilflieder, Op. 28. This music felt more reflective and longing than the previous compositions. The German composer Klughardt was fond of long, drawn out refrains in all three instruments featured. These pieces contained many beautiful and tinkling crescendos, especially in Pinkman’s piano performance.
After a brief intermission, the performance continued with the world premiere of Professor Román’s compositions. The collection of five pieces was entitled LVTCN, meant to be pronounced as “levitation.” The first movement, entitled La Montaña, was written to evoke the momentum and treacherous nature of a mountain. The piece was a jarring departure from the far more traditional forms of the music that preceded it. La Montaña’s deep register and unrelenting rumbling effect presented the listener with few points of emotional reference. The work felt, at times, deliberately rudimentary, as if to challenge preconceptions about art and music themselves.
The second movement, entitled Electro-strato was challenging in the same way. The abstract and formless body of the piece evoked only confusion as it lingered in patches of dissonance, at times seeming ready to return to auditory logic only to veer back into its chaotic, amorphous movement.
Color Mostaza, the third movement in LVTCN, was equally unrestrained in its musical pattern. The sound of the composition would be utterly meaningless, and completely emotionally detached were it not for an explanatory passage in the program that described the horrifying historical incident that inspired, or rather directly transcribed the music’s origin. The name of the piece is derived from 1944 experiments conducted by the U.S. Government to determine differing effects of mustard gas on the skin of racially different American soldiers. The chemical composition of mustard gas informs this piece, having been translated into Morse Code and then converted into music. As an emotionally meaningless string of notes, this piece works best when considered as a vehicle for discussion about rarely-discussed atrocities committed by the U.S. Government. The transcription from the code, though clearly innovative, did not yield any spontaneous musical depth.
The final two movements of LVTCN, Lluvia al revés, or “rain in reverse” shares the experimental detachment of the previous movements, but contains a certain logic in its attempt to depict the falling of rain in reverse. The final movement, Recuerdame, is a tribute to the friend of composer and performers alike, Gisella Garcia Casillas, who passed away in 2004.
The final phase of the evening’s performance was Mozart’s Trio for Oboe, Viola, and Piano, K. 498. This section of the performances marked a return to the musically rewarding standbys of Mozart, almost representing an extreme counterbalance of harmony to the dissonance of LVTCN. As a broad spectrum of music, the Schumann Ensemble’s performance sparked discussion and debate about the ways art can be used to elicit emotional responses, and how that expectation can be easily subverted.

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