Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Music of Nicholas Pavkovic

The composer Nicholas Pavkovic above (click here for his blog that contains a full roster of musical samples) just had a triumphant weekend at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he graduated last year in compositional studies. Pavkovic, originally from the Midwest but now living in San Francisco, won the Conservatory's annual Highsmith Award for orchestral music with "Angelus Novus," which was played by the Conservatory Orchestra on Saturday. On Sunday evening an entire concert was dedicated to his compositions with a starry roster of performers.

Sunday evening began with an ancient digital technology, the Marantz Vorseter, playing "Contraption No. 1" on Piano, which was a disconcerting way to start a concert since there were no performers on the stage other than a piano and the weird-looking contraption that was playing it. Things picked up with "Eight Figments for Wind Quintet" played by Gina Gulyas, Sydne Sullivan, Nick Litwin, Sarah Burgstahler, and Georgeanne Banker above. Possibly because Nicholas has written extensively for film soundtracks, short "figments" seem to be one of his favorite musical structures. They were performed beautifully and the music was constantly pleasurable.

This was followed by the premiere of a "Rhapsody for Viola and Piano" being played by no less than Jonathan Vinocour above, the new principal violist at the San Francisco Symphony... a duet with the Symphony's longtime pianist, Robin Sutherland, who performed the piece in his bare feet which was oddly charming.

Vinocour is such a great, passionate musician that he is always a joy to watch, and his interplay with Sutherland in the dense, pretty music was exciting.

After intermission, an entire chamber orchestra including a harpsichord and harmonium under the leadership of Qinging Qian arrived onstage for a recently composed one-act opera, "Sredni Vishtar." It's taken from the macabre Saki story about a boy under the thumb of a hideous, puritanical guardian aunt. The boy, Conradin, has a polecat ferret hidden in a shed and he gives the animal the name Sredni Vishtar, invents a religion, and prays to him for salvation. His prayers, in the end, come true when the ferret fatally attacks the guardian and we leave our young hero happily buttering his toast.

The libretto by Jim Coughenour is very skillful and the musical orchestration is superb, but I'm not sure the way it's currently meant to be performed quite works. The contralto Sara Couden above is asked to play both the boy and his guardian and also act as spoken narrator, and though Sara was never less than interesting, it was difficult to tell who she was supposed to be at any one moment. There were also difficulties in making herself understood as the Spoken Narrator because her diction and projection were weak, which wasn't at all a problem when she was actually singing.

Pavkovic might want to consider breaking the roles up into three different cast members, one a Narrator, one a contralto for the guardian, and one a soprano or boy treble for Conradin the abused young man. The music and the libretto are already perfect as is, but having one singer try to carry it all off is practical in some regards but not necesarilly artistically.

The final piece was a Concertino for Piano and Percussion with Keisuke Nakagoshi (above with his back turned) as piano soloist, and it was sensationally fun, propulsive music, with elements of jazz, Stravinsky, and Britten making themselves heard. It was an exciting ending to a lovely concert.


Axel Feldheim said...

You nearly made me regret hearing Cameron Carpenter wail on the Davies Hall organ Sunday night instead. Good work!

sfmike said...

Dear Axel: Thanks. See you at an obscure concert soon.