big dog: David Alan Miller.
Recital Hall, Massry Center for the Arts, March 6
I’m guessing that the College of Saint Rose’s new Picotte
Recital Hall has the excellent acoustics that befit a well-designed,
400-seat house. I’m guessing, because the amplification imposed
on last week’s Dogs of Desire concert was so atrocious that
the music was brutally disfigured—a testament to how thoroughly
an incompetent sound engineer can ruin the work of so many
I’d love to see the same forces assembled again with only
the absolutely necessary amplifiers—on synthesizer and electric
bass—and hear the program as it ought to be heard, with conductor
David Alan Miller shaping the dynamic balance from the podium.
It’s one of the conductor’s responsibilities, and he should
know better than to surrender it.
Should my fantasy concert take place, I’d skip one of the
works. David Mallamud’s Immram, which received its
premiere on Friday, was the big piece of the night—big in
its ambition, to pay tribute to the stories of sea voyages
given that title in Irish legend, and big in length, easily
twice as long as the typical Dogs commission is requested
In its eagerness to salute this style of balladry, the piece—a
dozen numbers, more or less alternating between vocals and
instrumentals—became a weak pastiche of such songs, sounding
like an overblown Evening at Pops. With busy synthesizer
player Chris Oldfather moving from accordion to harp to harpsichord,
and vigorous drumming from percussionist Mark Foster, we swept
from one long strophic song to another, punctuated by jigs
and reels and hornpipes.
The mission of a Dogs piece, as I understand it, is to explore
and meld and reinterpret the amazing amount of musical variety
that classical music tends to exist apart from; Immram
sounded too caught up in its own cleverness, and ended up
a mere simulacrum of traditional Irish song.
The encore that followed—Arthur Bloom’s brief “That’s The
Way I Like It”—is an old favorite with the group, and a perfect
example of such melding. The song by KC and the Sunshine Band
finds resonance with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
with a funny, unfussy effect.
Among the other new works presented, Luis Tinoco’s Sea
of Tranquility was the most successful. Exploring the
evening’s theme of voyages, Tinoco looked at the 1969 moon
landing, gathering spoken texts that ranged from classic science
fiction to Apollo mission transcripts.
Spoken by the excellent vocalists Alexandra Sweeton and Kamala
Sankaram (whose work was ruined by the amplification), the
words wove in and out of an orchestral wash initially reminiscent
of Ligeti before breaking into Stravinsky-esque rhythms, showing
Tinoco to be a fine orchestral craftsman.
Evan Hause’s Passage was a fairly formal work setting
an original text inspired in part by a century-old poem by
Henry Van Dyke about Henry Hudson’s final voyage, in search
of the Northwest Passage, that ended in mutiny and left the
explorer and a few others abandoned in icy waters.
Much of Hause’s text is a dialogue between Hudson and his
son (who also was abandoned in the mutiny), and the confluence
of those voices, over an uneasy, Berg-ian orchestra, was a
captivating effect. The piece is very dense and probably would
reward repeated listening.
The 18-piece orchestra was the star of Dan Visconti’s Low
Country Haze, imagining the unfamiliar sounds of nature
that Hernando de Soto’s 16th-century explorers must have heard
in their trip through the American south. Had Debussy worked
in the 21st century, he might have come up with some of the
pizzicato and brushwork effects Visconti devised for the opening,
that soon eased into an evocative tone poem that avoided the
trap of slavishly reproducing obvious birdsong and the like.
Three older Dogs pieces were also part of the program. A welcome
revisit from seven-string bass player (and dynamic composer)
Dan Cooper gave us The Mass Inertia, in which a rap
lyric gets a formal but still bumptious setting. Vocalist
Carolyn Kelly was terrific at intoning the words, carefully
set in a welter of rhythmic excitement, with the repeated
“no occupation, job or station” gaining more current-events
significance this year.
Ken Eberhard’s Five Haiku for Daytime Television features
brief, sardonic poems that probably serve to expiate his sin
of writing music for that genre; it’s sardonic and amusing
and proves that daytime TV has in no way robbed him of his
And Roshanne Etezady’s Start It Up melds the idea of
the freedom of motorcycle riding with the sobering feeling
of aging, a jazz-inflected piece with plenty of rhythmic propulsion,
its melodic voice giving way to the occasional pat phrase
of commercial jingles.
As ever, the Dogs of Desire offered a fascinating tour of
contemporary musical voices, and have found what has the potential
to be an appropriate performance space. But please kill the
amplification next time.