The Merian Ensemble: ASO Pre-Concert Chamber Concert

I was originally planning on attending the Saturday performance of the ASO, but Thomas Søndergård is conducting again and I just don’t like his work. I ended up holding off on donating the ticket back, though, so that I could attend the chamber concert of the Merian Ensemble that was scheduled to proceed the ASO’s Thursday performance. The Merian Ensemble is dedicated to bringing the works of women composers to audiences and, even though they’ll be staging a more fleshed out program on the 17th at the Schwartz Center, I wasn’t going to turn down a chance to hear a program of music that I’d never heard before.

The concert opened with the first movement of Clarice Assad’s The Book of Spells for flute, oboe, clarinet, viola and harp. This was commissioned by the ensemble and the full piece get its world premier at the concert later this month. It was a delightful piece that created a sense of wonder and fun. It wasn’t hard to get lost in it and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine it as the incidental music for a scene of someone experimenting with magical potions.

Up next was Reena Esmail’s Jhula Jhule, which was orignally for for oboe and piano but the piano part was transcribed for harp for this performance. The notes for it stated that Esmail wanted to bring Indian music into her composition, though it seemed more central Asian than Hindustani at first to my – admittedly untrained – ear. I liked it; particularly the use of bent notes for the oboe, which didn’t quite put me in mind of a voice as was intended but did make me think of something a little more folk (more in the sense of being of the people than any specific folk music form). I did think that it dragged a little, but that’s kind of how I feel about Indian classical music in general and has more to do with my tastes that anything else.

This was followed by Polina Nazaykinaskaya’s Lamentation of the Bird for clarinet and harp. Honestly, the name really describes the piece better than anything I could write. That said, it was a little less melancholy than a lamentation and had a nice undercurrent of hope.

The concert closed with Margaret Griebling-Haigh’s Dances Ravissants for flute, oboe, viola, and harp. This was a light and energetic piece and delightfully dancey. I’m not a huge fan of their work, but I honestly think that Heath Gill of Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre could choreograph something that would work really well with this: something light with a little silly humor.

I’d normally favor a concert with a more coherent aesthetic theme than this, but I think that this concert was well programmed given the intention of bringing woman-composed music to audiences. And, as I said, I love having the chance to hear works that I might not get the chance to hear otherwise. The tone of the pieces tended toward the light side but all four were intelligent and fairly engaging. I’m looking forward to the full concert on the 17th that will include the rest of the Assad commission as well as a couple of more pieces by Jennifer Higdon and Mary Kouyoumdjian.

Leave a Reply