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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Evening of Miniatures’ big on exploration in Green Bay

Critic At Large

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music

Event poster.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – From whimsy to dead seriousness, one of the most unusual annual concerts around was presented Thursday night in a new way because of the COVID-19 pandemic – which made its presence known in the theme of some works.

“Part of the goal is to present new music in an accessible way,” Michelle McQuade Dewhirst said in September 2011.

By “accessible,” she meant – and still means – bite-sized. Pieces can be no longer than one minute and contain 100 or fewer notes. They are morsels.

In May 2021, the accessibility has gone up a notch to mean something additional, the Internet, plus continued access anytime via the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music’s YouTube channel.

Michelle McQuade Dewhirst of the faculty has overseen the project from the start. She also has two distinctive pieces on this year’s program.

“Enough?” is a tease about washing hands for at least 20 seconds because of COVID-19.

“All So Still” weighs in on mortality via words by Virginia Woolf – AND sets the stage for a piece fueled by emotions surrounding one of the headlining deaths of 2020: “in memoriam, Breonna Taylor (rest)” by Elijah J. Thomas.

The concert is part of the “6:30 Concert Series,” one of UWGB Music’s ways to connect with community members who want to learn.

The performing entity is titled – all lower case – a very small consortium. The lineup features members of the UWGB Music faculty.

The music selected from submissions virtually anywhere is not found on the Interstate highway mainstream. It’s from paths through woods and along streams and ravines – tough to get to and maybe get, but always with fresh ideas and perspectives.

The performers get into the material. That’s because the music is new, goes to places often not ventured before and is full of demands that fuel the intellect. Adrenaline gushes.

Only a fool would write about such adventure-minded music, so here goes, with thoughts that zipped through my brain pan when listening:

***

Program: “a very small consortium Presents an Evening of Miniatures”

+ “About” – Joe Marta. Text: avsc

   Courtney Sherman, soprano; Michael Dewhirst, cello

Feels like a merry carol. Wordplay fun includes “big plans” in reference to the concert.

+ “Ad Astra” – Frank Luna

   Adam Gaines, trumpet; Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, horn; Kevin Collins, trombone

Feels regal, like an entrance in a leisured pace to something great.

+ “Variations pour une note et un soupir” – Jean-Patrick Besingrand

   Luis Fernandez, violin

It’s as if the violinist is test driving the instrument to make sure it can do what it needs to do in any situation – plucking, stroking, striking, caressing, challenging.

+ “Sea Glass” – Ceclia Livingston

   Emily Sculliuffo, piano

The introduction mentions SeaGlass Carousel in Battery Park in New York City. A photo is shown. One take on the music: Feelings of finding sea glass on a shore – a slow process, with a bit of haunting atmosphere blended with reverie and a touch of the ominous (because some finds are from sunken ships).

Collection of sea glass found on California coast by Monica Gerds (mostly) and her father. (Warren Gerds)

+ “Taran-To” – Francisco J. Andreo Gazquez

   Luis Fernandez, violin

One impression: A person at complicated crossroads… a time of decision… debating with oneself… drawing to a satisfactory conclusion.

+ “There Was an Old Man with a Beard” – Brandon Zhou

   Randy Meder, baritone; Michael Dewhirst, cello

A limerick! with cello adding dramatics. Fun.

+ “Enough?” – Michelle McQuade Dewhirst

   Courtney Sherman, soprano; Bill Sallak, vibraphone

A lament… to colors of the instrument.

+ Exoplanets #1. Gliese 581c” – Ben Richter

   Luis Fernandez, violin; Emily Sculliffo, piano

Introduction notes refer to Earth-like planets. Music gives impression being space-cial – in space and drawing near to something in repeated attempts.

+ “Curio Articulatus” Gramm Drennen

   Luis Fernandez, violin

Introduction notes refer to evergreen succulents. Music includes a fly-like tension, as of fly wing, growing in intensity – dissonance included as if a tad of madness – shifting to release.

+ “Moon Sister” – Paul Ayres

   Courtney Sherman, soprano; Michael Dewhirst, cello

Formal sound of singer… Sister may be sun in lyrics. Cello repetition of three notes. Poetry spoken at end.

+ “Surrounding” – Marcello Di Russo

   Emily Sculliffo, piano

Feeling of a rising awareness of the instruments… three notes, discovery of different sounds… and one solid one.

+ “All So Still” – Michelle McQuade Dewhirst; Text: Virginia Woolf

   Courtney Sherman, soprano

Big resounding voice. A melancholy aura, slowly advancing. References to unfeeling, uncaring… certain rawness to the atmosphere it in solo voice assessing mortality. Heavyweight material.

+ “in memoriam, Breonna Taylor (rest)” – Elijah J. Thomas

   Adam Gaines, trumpet; Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, horn; Kevin Collins, trombone

Notes refer to improvisational origin and 22 notes for shots fired with six striking the subject. Music organized chaos – a depiction of an event of confusion with the six notes from trumpet distinctive. Additional notes include statement from composer.

Lineup for “Relentless: A Pentatonic Pursuit.” (Warren Gerds screenshot)

+ “Relentless: A Pentatonic Pursuit” – Lisa Gardner Harris

   Adam Gaines, trumpet; Luis Fernandez, violin; Michael Dewhirst, cello; Bill Sallak, timpani

Notes refer to pandemic theme. Music a rush, as if an emergency room rush of action and busy-ness, bussle… Something imperative.

+ “Minitura” – Marta K. Kowalczuk

   Luis Fernandez, violin; Michael Dewhirst, cello

Notes refer to music being for a 70th birthday. Impression is the recipient is open-minded, for the music goes to new, seemingly disjointed and challenging places with violin and cello often on different tacks with the violin flying high and cello sometimes swerving in its notes.

+ “Pulvis et Umbra Sumus” – John G. Bilotta

   Luis Fernandez, violin

Notes translate the title: “We are dust in shadows,” from the ancient Horace. Violin casts an image of solitude and thought and reflection, mostly calmly.

+ “Third Date” – Marc Hoffenditz (music) and Anthony DiPietro (lyrics)

   Randy Meder, baritone; Michael Dewhirst, cello

Introductory notes refer to Robert and Ollie’s third date in a time of COVID-19. Sung: “Take my hand Ollie… it’s time we got serious now. It’s a love song.

+ “Murder Hornets” – Daniel Ruffing

   Sarah Meredith Livingston, mezzo-soprano; Emily Sculliuffo, piano

Dramatic piano… imperative singing describing attacks. And then the attack is done (like the pandemic will be???)

***

Running time: 35 minutes

Access: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIogNO1O2KU

Program: https://issuu.com/uwgbmusic/docs/miniatures_program?fr=sOTM3MzM1ODU2NjY

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