Kamratōn (Women In New Music) Opens Eighth Season

Very Contemporary Chamber Music Brought a Distinct Beat to Friends House

By George B. Parous

The unique, decidedly contemporary group of “Women in New Music,” launched their eighth season Friday night (Jan. 6) in a comfortable room at the Friends Meeting House in Oakland. The program, like its interpreters, was bright, and the ensemble of musicians clearly enjoyed playing and singing the list of numbers as much as the group that gathered to listen. The atmosphere was casual, and a unique musical experience was enjoyed on a cold January night – the first of 2023, for me.

Since the ensemble’s founding in 2015, by a group of musicians who, through frequent collaboration, learned they were interested in presenting an original sound to the city’s “new music” community (there is one and they’re a loyal bunch), Kamratōn has put together a very impressive performance resume. By the time their present season is over, they will have premiered over 50 new works in their history, including two fully staged chamber operas (we saw and reviewed The Strange Child) and Erin Roger’s “On View,” commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition. This season will feature the premiere of new works by Brittany J. Greene, Emmanuel Berrido, Christian Mechem, and Kamratōn-member Emily Cook, at performances in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, NY, and throughout the Midwest. Kamratōn has performed on the New Hazlett Theater’s Community Supported Arts (CSA) series, the Beyond: Microtonal Music Festival, the Pittsburgh Festival of New Music, Kent State Stark’s new music series, and elsewhere. They have also served as ensemble-on-residence at the 2021 virtual SCI Student Composers Conference and at Duke University.

Left to Right – Sarah Steranka, Anna Elder, Cecilia Caughman, Emily Cook and Jennifer Sternick

The program as arranged last night cleverly allowed the ensemble to shine as such, along with plenty of opportunities for the individual instrumentalists to come to the fore, including the powerful soprano voice of Anna Elder. The instrumentalists of the ensemble are Jennifer Sternick, a true violin virtuosa; Cecilia Caughman, who makes her cello sing; Sarah Steranka, a gifted flutist, and Emily Cook, who plays the clarinet beautifully and occasionally takes time to compose.

The first number on Friday evening’s program was a mixture of the old being adapted to the new in a quite interesting fashion, In 1901, Gustav Mahler wrote music to text by Friedrich Rückert. The result was a beautiful German art song called “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (“I am lost to the world”). Ten years ago, composer Eliza Brown kept Rückert’s title and text, and wrote music “adapted by” Mahler, rather than “from.” Seeing this on the program made a true lieder-lover’s heart sad, until he remembered it was 2023, and that the piece deserved a fair hearing. It was well worth the listen, beautifully sung and accompanied.

Following came instrumental pieces – “Type,” by (Sakari Dixon-Vandeveer); and “Eels,” “Pearl,” “2178,” and “Bootlace,” by Yaz Lancaster, and to “old music” ears these were mostly jagged rhythms, discords, dissonances and abrupt endings that jarred somewhat. But the music wasn’t composed for me. The pieces all gave varying degrees of pleasure to their target audience. Dai Fujikura’s “Being as One,” Mischa Salkind-Pearl’s “Five Fallen Leaves,” and  “In This Styrofoam Room” (Curtis Rumrill/Zachary Weber) rounded out the honestly enjoyable program.

But if you weren’t there Friday night, you missed Kamratōn’s opening concert. But you have time to plan for upcoming events, Visit Kamratōn for full details on their March, April and June concerts. To get a general feel for the ensemble’s “beat,” check out this little YouTube clip.

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