Daniel Schlosberg stepped up to the microphone, his large sunglasses glinting even in Morse Recital Hall’s dim light. He gave a quick smile and nod to the audience. Then, with unerring confidence, he stated: “The only way to truly experience reality is to distort it beyond recognition.”
So began ladies and, the first piece in an applause-worthy lineup featuring Australian composer Andrew Ford as well as several graduate student composers in the Yale School of Music. The event, held at Morse Recital Hall Thursday evening, marked an end to this year’s season of New Music New Haven, and a celebratory goodbye to three enterprising young composers (Dan Schlosberg, Benjamin Wallace and Reena Esmail) graduating from the YSM this year.
Indeed, from Schlosberg’s sunglass- and suspender-clad ensemble, parodying doo-wop tunes in the most epic of fashions – strains of Connie Francis’ Where the Boys Are became a vintage-demi-opera meets tuba Odyssey – the tone for the evening was celebration.
Celebration, for Schlosberg and the other student composers, of not only their time at Yale, but their profound love for music, and for the institution that has brought them together.
ladies and kicked the evening off in style, relating to the audience four ladies’ ardent love for the bro-est of bros, a caricature of prep-meets-machismo down to his Yale cardigan, tight pants and slicked-back hair (and of course, the mention of his yellow Porsche). Ridiculously accomplished (you may recognize him from the recent Rite Now project, among many other endeavors), Schlosberg is also a master of parody, and knows how to have fun. As they sang out ooooh ohhh woo ooh ooh oooh, ladies and soprano Molly Netter and mezzo-soprano Kelly Hill scrunched their faces and shimmied their shoulders at each other, the object of their fictional affections, tubaist Jens Peterson, playing with bravado at the center of the stage.
Such whimsy continued – and grew more complex – in Benjamin Wallace’s And Stanley Pressed a Button. Based on The Stanley Parable, a video game that Wallace called “one of the most meta, existential experiences I’ve had in my life,” the ‘disco-opera’ responds directly to a choose-your-own adventure story of harsh binaries and Stanley’s contentment within it, mapping music to the game’s scenarios.
Narrated by Jonathan Slade, the piece is one of the more experimental and funky to hit the YSM’s stage this year. And it works: as Slade read “It was such a wonderful fantasy,” Schlosberg, in the role of Stanley, transitioned from rigid at the piano to keyed up and alert with a keyboard around his neck; the words “In reality, all he’s doing is pressing the same buttons he always has,” brought him back to the piece’s foundation, a jazzy, post-Brubeck kind of standard perfect at portraying the monotony – if not also profound tristesse – of Stanley’s button-pressing existence.
Celebration has many faces, and not all of them grin. Reena Esmail’s “Gul-e-dodi” (Dark Flower; video of another performance of the composition below) from her Anjuman Songs paid stunning tribute to Nadia Anjuman’s illustrious career, cut short when the poet was murdered by her husband in 2005.
“Had she been alive today, we would have been about the same age,” Esmail said of her drive in composing. “Her sentiments are universal.”
The piece, a melding of English and Anjuman’s native Farsi, was deep and beautiful, almost fragrant, as mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen met Hsuan-Fong Chen’s English Horn and Shunori Ramanathan read a translation of Anjuman’s words. Rosen has an uncanny ability to throw her voice to every corner of the room, lending to the composition a tenor that was both impossibly delicate and voluminous.
So too was first-year Nicholas DiBerardino’s striking world without end, based around melody and highly inspired by the Gloria Patri of the Gregorian chant. While the work, conducted by the New Haven Chamber Orchestra’s Jonathan Brandani, may rely on the chant as its inspiration, its execution was surprisingly contemporary, reaching a climax that was fundamentally about the attempt – and momentary ability – to reach musical transcendence as the brass and woodwind sections climbed over each other in not-quite-harmony.
Wrapping up the evening on the same celebratory note were Andrew Ford’s (pictured above) final pieces, revolving around a great admiration for the viola and the myriad musical feats of which it is capable. His The Scattering of Light (2010), commissioned by the University of Queensland to mark its centenary, was a dramatic homage to the instrument, Xinyi Xu’s viola weaving a sensuous, slightly melancholy thread through parts for violin, cello and piano.
By the work’s end, audiences had only garnered a small glimpse into the present – and future – of composition. By all estimates, however, it is a rather bright – and if Schlosberg keeps those sunglasses, downright glittery – one.