NEW MUSIC REVIEW : Yuasa Composition Sets Standard at Forum

It is claimed that the pleasures of philosophy are the pleasures of reduction: formulating the concise definition, discovering the elementary principles.

In 20th-Century music, the virtue of reduction has guided many trends, from the condensed miniatures of Webern and the serialists to the simple structures of today’s minimalists. At Tuesday’s New Music Forum concert presented in UC San Diego’s Mandeville recital hall, reductionist trends still appeared to dominate the composers’ imaginations.

Resident composer Joji Yuasa’s piano solo “Cosmos Haptic II,” ably performed by Christian Hertzog, clearly set the standard on this program of works written over the past two years. As deftly structured as a Debussy prelude, Yuasa’s work balanced highly reverberant blocks of sound coaxed from the extreme ranges of the keyboard. His clever use of the piano pedals expanded the instrument’s available colors more inventively than many elaborate “preparations,” those tricks of placing screws and erasers on the piano strings so favored by the past generation of avant-gardists.

A composition by Hertzog, “Hymn” for four strings and prepared tape, opened the concert. Written to sound like a massive, sustained organ chord with subtly changing inner voices, “Hymn” is a short, evocative essay. It’s tempting to label such attempts as Messiaen for the fast-food generation.


Two other works made notable statements. Mark Osborn’s “Chair,” a wordless vocalise for voice and piano, sounded like an extended sigh with pointillistic piano counterpoint. The subtle interaction of these two forces, performed by pianist Steven Takasugi and soprano Julie Randall, was simple but telling. Gan-wei Yin’s solo etude for oboist Susan Barrett proved that the catalogue of extended instrumental techniques such as multiphonics and flutter-tonguing that work so well for flute do not transfer gracefully to the oboe. Nevertheless, the composer’s complex sonic arch was engaging and beautifully executed by Barrett.

The remaining works fell below the expectations that this contemporary music series has set over the past two years. Mamoru Fujieda’s “Requiem Fragmentum” for piano solo suffered from pointless repetition and a lack of any adventure with the medium. If Linda Swedensky continues to produce more eclectic but abysmally sterile works for electronic tape like her “Vermiculated Sets,” she should be sent back to the University of Illinois, where she realized her vapid squeaks and gurgles. They no doubt appreciate these distracting noises in the lonely Illinois cornfields.

Electric guitar tinker Tom North once again demonstrated that, although he has uncovered a new vocabulary of sounds for his electronically adapted instrument, he apparently has nothing to say.