SAN DIEGO — Granted, the presentation of new music does not arouse either the passion or even the curiosity of, say, a newly released movie or the opening of a Broadway play. But even Beethoven was once novel, and some of today's staples of orchestral and chamber music were initially dismissed as ugly or unplayable.
UC San Diego's New Music Forum has a healthy reputation for offering a regular sampling of new works by the university's cadre of younger composers. If some of these emerging composers are still finding their individual musical voices, there is a fresh, invigorating character about the best of them.
Two striking new compositions surfaced Tuesday night at Mandeville Recital Hall in the first New Music Forum of the 1988-89 season. Rick Bidlack's "Four Studies on a Repeated Note" and Chaya Schwartz's "Manoalchadia" could not have been further apart in choice of medium or idiom, but this, too, is a sign of health. There is no obvious party line to follow at UCSD.
Schwartz's hypnotic songs in Hebrew for two sopranos and bass flute were as searing as a sirocco, as plaintive as the wailings of Levantine mourners. The style was at once primitive, in the incantations of the voices, and sophisticated, in the complex web of counterpoint Schwartz so brilliantly constructed.
Part of the success of the songs, which won Schwartz a prize at this summer's Darmstadt new music conference, may be attributed to the virtuosity and panache of soprano Carol Plantamura and flutist John Sebastian Winston. Julie Randall sang the complementary soprano part.
Bidlack's studies were pure high-tech productions, metallic synthesized sounds tightly organized and cleanly programmed. Each study was illuminated by Alan Finke's crisp, geometric computer graphics that changed with the progressions of the music. If this description sounds vaguely like a highbrow video game, this reviewer found the musical and visual combination compelling in a way that most electronic music is not. If any music deserves the label futurist, this is it.
Michael Staehle's "Doppelspiegel" for two pianos, was a highly idiomatic, serialist sounding dialogue between the two keyboards, seriously and articulately played by Dillan Snowgrass and Jean Baum. For a genre that is associated with showy or saccharine arrangements, Staehle had something worthwhile to say for two pianos.
Abe Singer's "Epitaph" for voice, flute, tape and percussion merged these sound sources at the threshold of audibility, giving the sonic image of the breaking waves uttering a haunting benediction. Bob Willey's "Cereal Music" should have been as clever in its realization as in its title. If its pointillistic texture was initially engaging, the jazz-like ostinatos quickly slipped into a static picture.