The New York Times, August 17, 2002

"No Reason They Can't Be Medieval, Too"


The Locrian Chamber Players' guiding principle is that their programs include only works composed in the last decade. But at their concert on Thursday evening at Riverside Church, the musicians showed that there are ways around that restriction.

One is to play recent works that quote older ones: David Noon's "Tristan's Lament With Rotta" (Op. 119), an attractive solo harp work composed in 1993, quotes liberally from a pair of medieval songs. Another is to play in an olden style. William Bolcom did that vividly in "Spring Trio" (1996), a set of elegantly turned rags couched in a harmonic language that would not have been out of place in an early 20th-century salon.

Still, as new-music groups go, the Locrians have stayed refreshingly clear of a stylistic agenda. Other concerts have been dominated by grittier music, and if backward glances dominated this program, a few works with at least a slightly sharper harmonic edge provided balance.

In that regard, Mr. Bolcom's compositional sensibility suits this group well. He is the ultimate stylistic chameleon, and that is not meant pejoratively: he is open to whatever style seems appropriate to him as he approaches a particular project. He was represented by three works here, all different. The first, which followed Mr. Noon's neo-medieval variations, was "Celestial Dinner Music" (1996), for flute and harp - a pretty, tongue-in-cheek evocation of a four-course dinner, with movement titles straddling food and mythology ("Risotto With Sacrificial Lamb and Elysian Field Lettuce," for example). A snippet of "Amazing Grace," played in shaky flute harmonics, is offered as a coda, and perhaps as a review of the meal.

Patti Monson, the flutist, played Mr. Bolcom's graceful melodies with an admirable agility, and Anna Reinersman played the harp lines with the same suppleness that she brought to Mr. Noon's work.

Mr. Bolcom's "Dedicace: A Small Measure of Affection" (1992) was composed in memory of Milhaud, with whom Mr. Bolcom studied, and its two brief movements allude to the gently tart harmonic style of Milhaud's keyboard works. In the program these aphoristic movements were presented as a prelude to the world premiere of a work by Evan Hause, "Spectral Caravan" (2002).

There were some connections: both Mr. Bolcom's and Mr. Hause's works are scored for piano four-hands and use repeating rhythmic figures as the central structural elements onto which melody and harmony are painted. The pianists were Jonathan Faiman and Blair McMillen. What made Mr. Hause's piece particularly compelling was his way of deconstructing and varying the central rhythms without undermining the illusion of constancy that they provide. Mr. Bolcom's cheerful "Spring Trio," played by Mr. Faiman with Conrad Harris, violinist, and Peter Seidenberg, cellist, ended the first half of the program.

After the intermission, the percussionist William Trigg took over the stage for Kevin Volans's "Akrodha" (1998), a two-part percussion exploration. The work's title is a Sanskrit word that means "absence of anger," but that does not imply absence of vehemence or full-throttle noisemaking. Particularly in the first movement, which is scored for drums, Mr. Trigg filled the small, low-ceilinged room on the 10th floor of the church with a barrage of sound, although it was not so loud that the work's rhythmic intricacies were obscured. The second movement, scored for a collection of found metallic objects - a trowel, copper tubing and a heavy spring, among them - was comparatively delicate.