Tufts, exploring an educator's diverse compositions
By Matthew Guerrieri - Bostom Globe
- In "The Souls of Black Folk," W.E.B. DuBois voiced
the African-American's desire: "This is the end of his striving
to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture."
whose 80th birthday was honored last weekend with a three-day
new music festival at Tufts University, has attained prominence
in that kingdom, and on his own terms. Anderson, who ran Tufts'
music department from 1972 until 1980, and continued teaching
there for another decade, was one of the first (and, still, too-few)
prominent African-American composers in contemporary classical
music, often recognized more for the fact of his career; the festival's
Sunday finale put his music front and center.
illustrated Anderson's curatorial approach - disparate musical
styles arranged side-by-side, in co-equal juxtaposition. In two
piano solos - 1982's "Call and Response" (performed
by Peter D'Elia), and 2007's "In Memoriam Gerald Gill"
(played by Edith Auner) - fragmentary, avant-garde clusters, glissandi,
and sparks slowly assemble into tonal endings: a snatch of hymn,
a quiet cadence. Pianist and Tufts professor John McDonald and
alumni Tom Swafford (violin) and James Coleman (cello) dug incisively
into "Ivesiana": unsynchronized nostalgic simultaneities
scaffolded and subverted by violent, disconnected outbursts. McDonald
was also sharp and scintillating in "Watermelon," a
1971 solo that transcribes a street vendor's call, then occasionally
glimpses it through aggressive modernist traffic.
premieres showed more overt vernacular references. "In Memoriam
Jennifer Fitzgerald" (repeated from Friday's concert, which
remembered the composer and Tufts alumna) featured trumpeter John
McCann bringing flair to a jazzy, brief series of muted riffs
before opening the bell for a final, haunting peal. "Jazz
Overtones" was written for Ann Hobson Pilot; the BSO harpist,
her husband, saxophonist R. Prentice Pilot, and percussionist
Will Hudgins combined in minimalistic loops of bright African
rhythms that unraveled into individual soliloquies, reassembling
into a jump-cut series of modal jams: the ancestry, gestation,
and birth of the cool.
premiere was the most unusual: "Birdsongs," commissioned
for the art-rock ensemble Birdsongs of the Mesozoic by band founder
and one-time Anderson student Erik Lindgren. The five movements,
four setting intricate texts by Anderson's son, poet T.J. Anderson
III, referenced Charlie Parker, Igor Stravinsky, and Frederick
Delius, but even within the rock milieu, Anderson's penchants
emerged - mosaic sequences of isolated instruments, driving rhythmic
grooves undermined and reasserted. Soprano D'Anna Fortunato's
flamboyantly operatic, angular melismata were sometimes a curious
fit, but testified to an all-encompassing musical appetite. Anderson's
kingdom of culture is a diverse place indeed.