Concert Art of Elan, inspired by stained glass, a mixture of seduction, mystery and blind faith
A new installation at the San Diego Museum of Art served as the setting for Art of Elan’s Wednesday night concert, “Broken Windows.”
Justin Sterling’s ‘Chapel of the Rocks’ is held inside SDMA’s main exhibit gallery. It is a small plywood structure composed of materials that the artist has recovered from the streets of New York, including windows. He broke them, colored them and reassembled them, creating low-tech stained glass windows. The chapel was also adorned with fire hydrants, bullet casings, expanding foam insulation, and a traffic cone wrapped in a hoodie.
Although Art of Elan executive director Kate Hatmaker pointed out that “Broken Windows” alluded to the controversial theory of policing overzealously enforced by New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, it was hard to detect in what it related to the largely meditative works of Alan Hovhaness, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Juhi Bansal and Kevin Puts.
The correlation between Sterling’s broken stained glass, housed in a place of spiritual reflection, and the concert program was more apparent.
The evening’s main fare, “Credo” by Puts, was a 20-minute string quartet. Although the title suggests the recitation of Roman Catholic beliefs, Puts’ program notes confessed his distrust in blind faith. “Credo” found inspiration in a violin specialist’s workshop, the jogging trails along the Monongahela River and the view from Puts’ New York apartment of a mother learning to dance at her daughter.
Art of Elan has previously featured the conservative yet effective music of Puts. This 2007 work alternated luxurious slow music with ostinato grooves in the vein of John Adams. Wesley Precourt, first violin, played the melodies of Puts with a luxurious touch, and the contributions of the rest of the ensemble – Hatmaker on second violin, Hanah Stuart on viola and Alex Greenbaumon on cello – were equally essential.
The audience seemed most moved by Puts’ musical rhetoric, but I found a more serene beauty in the concert opener, Hovhaness’ “Upon Enchanted Ground” (1951). At a time when few American composers looked to the Orient, Hovhaness drew inspiration from the traditional music of Japan, Korea and Armenia. What might have seemed quaint 71 years ago now appears as a prescient hybridization of Asian and Western elements.
It is a short and mysterious piece exploring different instrumental combinations: a trio for flute, harp and cello; a harp solo with mysterious tom-tom beats; and a brief flowering of the four instruments before it cryptically closes. Rose Lombardo’s flute melodies were seductive, with sultry offerings from Julie Smith Phillips on harp, Greenbaum on cello and Andrew Watkins on tam-tam.
At 38, Bansal was the youngest composer on the program. His solo harp work, “Trail of Stars”, dates back to the early 20th century with impressionistic harmonies underpinning a simple yet ever-changing melody. Phillips gave her a riveting performance.
Holland’s “Her Home Is Not of This Land” was the most religiously inspired composition of the evening, an instrumental attempt to capture the blue-note harmonies and rhythmic freedom of an African-American worship service. Lombardo on alto flute, Max Opferkuch on bass clarinet, Precourt on violin, Stuart on viola and Greenbaum on cello vividly rendered Holland’s musical portrait.
Planned or not, every piece of the program ended abruptly or unexpectedly. In these suggestions for more music to come that never happened, to paraphrase scripture, faith has become the evidence of things unheard.
Hertzog is a freelance writer.