Saturday, August 4, 2012

Daniel Kellogg Work Premiered at Colorado Music Festival

Daniel Kellogg's "The Gates of Paradise" received its premiere performance Thursday night at the Colorado Music Festival.

Premiering a commissioned work has become one of the season highlights of CMF, and the Click! program used to commission the works is unique to the festival. Each year, 3-4 composers are pre-selected by Maestro Michael Christie, and then the audience and anyone else can vote for a composer to get the commission by donating $10. Thus the audience both funds and selects the winning composer.

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Composer Daniel Kellogg (L) and Conductor Michael Christie at a pre-concert discussion.

Last fall's top vote winner was Boulder's Kellogg, who teaches at the College of Music of the University of Colorado, and the evening affirmed that he was indeed a felicitous choice. The piece began with shimmering, misty, sustained strings, out of which various gestures emerged in the lower strings, percussion, brass, etc. Eventually these craggy peaks asserted themselves throughout the orchestra, evoking both the Gates of Paradise (impressive huge doors of the Baptistery in Florence, Italy, later named by Michelangelo) and the striking mountains that define Boulder's western limit, where the nation's High Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. A building accumulation of these strong gestures reaches a climax to conclude the piece. It's a successful, attractive work which I hope finds performances elsewhere.

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Another new piece followed, and the report is quite different. Imagine creating a catalog of all the familiar, surefire things that an orchestra can do effectively. Then you skillfully cut and paste these into an old-fashioned 4-movement symphony. You even toss in a fugal passage (the practice of which I thought had been rightfully banned). The result might be Jay Greenberg's Symphony No. 5. Now if you compose this when you are around 14 years old, you become a prodigy that gets fetêd on CBS's "60 Minutes" etc. But the fact remains that the piece is strangely out of touch with today's music and seems devoid of any individual expression.

As Alex Ross commented about Greenberg in his excellent blog, "For him, it is 1904 and anything is possible," adding that many young composers "act as though the 20th century had never happened." One hopes that Greenberg, with some years and compositional studies under his belt since being deemed a modern-day Mozart, is learning to use his considerable talents to reveal a composer who has something to say.

The concert concluded with a solid, appealing performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

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