The fruits of hard work were on display when Donald Crockett conducted USC’s Contemporary Music Ensemble Tuesday night at Hancock Auditorium, USC. An appreciative audience was rewarded with an intelligent, varied program of four works, all given superb attention by the student chamber orchestra.
The centerpiece of the evening, Aaron Kernis’ “America(n) (Day) Dreams” (1984), was a Post-Modern setting of six stream-of-consciousness poems by May Swenson. Written for amplified voice and chamber ensemble, Kernis’ dreamlike work unfolded mysteriously through a variety of styles which included a subtle quote of the Herman’s Hermits song “There’s a Kind of Hush” and an epilogue in the style of a 1930s American dance band.
Crockett led his forces with the right amount of wit, carefully placing every note and shaping each phrase. Mezzo Karen Born provided adequate singing, narration and Sprechgesang , beginning timidly, but eventually gaining more confidence.
In Gilbert Amy’s serial “Echos XIII” (1976) for horn, trombone, harp, piano and chamber ensemble, Crockett and the four soloists painstakingly brought out tiny melodic fragments in a Baroque concerto form--frenetic solo sections alternating with equally busy tutti interludes. Trombonist Mark Ammons supplied the most gusto, accurately mastering difficult, multifarious effects and quick passages.
Completing the program were two British works: Benjamin Britten’s Second Suite for Cello (1967), with cellist Philip Hansen demonstrating his admirable virtuosity, and Oliver Knussen’s “Ophelia Dances 1" (1975) for chamber ensemble, a somewhat reserved but carefully wrought study on the madness of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”