Classical music Counterpoint and contradiction

Composer Michael Twomey premieres new and old

Contemporary composer and performer Michael Twomey likes to remind audiences that "at one point, every piece of music was new. I won't go to a concert unless there's a composition I haven't heard before in the program."

There are, hopefully, a few moments in every artist's life when all the work that goes into manifesting one's vision is validated. There's a renewed sense of purpose when the discouraging thought that a masterwork might sit on the shelf for eternity and the accumulation of missed opportunities, bad timing, and dismissive attitudes are briefly cleared away by a handful of people who seem to understand, appreciate, and value what you do. It's especially gratifying when it comes as a request, not a capitulation.

Composer Michael Twomey is gleefully engaged in that rare moment, preparing for a full recital of several of his compositions at the request of his department chair at Our Lady of the Lake University. The request was an exciting one for Twomey, an assistant professor of music at OLLU where he teaches all sections of music theory, the music technology classes, and leads the university's string ensemble.

Also an accomplished violist, Twomey's primary artistic persona is composer. Stylistically, his works range from traditional quartets, choral, and orchestral works to scores that pair instrumentalists with electronic compositions. Many of his works have a spiritual aspect, often using religious references, though never in a dogmatic or heavy-handed way. He's won numerous awards and commissions and has, in general, enjoyed a fair amount of exposure. However, there are always new pieces to explore and a few older works that, for various reasons, never were performed. With the exception of one piece, all of the works in the April 17 program will be performed for the first time.

"The bulk of the Bartok Violin Sonata seemed to me the last word (for the present) in ugliness and incoherence. It was as if two people were improvising against each other."
- Ernest Newman,
London Sunday Times,
March 26, 1922

The recital program displays several aspects of Twomey's character, incorporating traditional musical forms, poetry, theatrical elements, ironic musical motifs, and paradoxical instrumentation. The oldest work on the program is the Dialogue for Oboe and Piano (1984), which explores the sonorities and character of both instruments in a lively, contrapuntal exchange of musical ideas. Another work, Prayer for October, for flute, piano, percussion, and cello was written in 1998 for the Timeus Ensemble at the Eastman School of Music. The ensemble disbanded before the piece was performed, so this will be its premiere.

Twomey's sense of paradox and contradiction is often humorous. Audience participation is required for Blue Plate Special, a work completed within the last few months. The piece is scored for piano, violin, and cello, and consists of four movements: hors d'oeuvre, soup OR salad, entrée, and dessert, but in no particular order. The musicians choose, with the audience "tasting" each course. "I love the idea of taking instruments with specific connotations and then putting them in a completely opposite context," Twomey says.

Dance Mix (1993) is scored for piano and bassoon, a rather unlikely instrument to encourage dancing. The irony is developed throughout the three movements: Groove, Torchsong, and Scherzo (if you want it). Twomey's mix might not make the Top 40, but it should be fun.

Composition Recital:
Michael Twomey

Sun, Apr 17
Thiry Auditorium, OLLU
411 SW 24th
The final piece on the program is Plank (a theater piece for shakuhachi), composed last year for colleague Martha Fabrique and premiered in August 2004 at the International Shakuhachi Convention. Fabrique's dual musical life as a classical Western flutist and a performer of traditional Japanese shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) repertoire provided the perfect opportunity for Twomey to explore the nuance of the instrument. Employing improvisation, props, and narration, this unique piece already has received more exposure than Twomey expected. "With something that specific, you don't expect more than a couple of performances," Twomey says. "This will actually be the fourth, and I'm really pleased Martha's excited about it."

Twomey couldn't be more pleased with the other musicians on the program. "I always think that one reason contemporary classical music isn't well received by audiences is that the musicians don't seem to be enjoying themselves. The best part of this project is that all of the musicians are genuinely interested. I want my music to be interpreted. These musicians are incredibly talented and sincere about the music."

Played by some of San Antonio's finest musicians, his work will be presented under the best of conditions. For Twomey, that's gratification enough.

By Diana Lyn Roberts

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