'Trials of Youth" was the title of the program Boston Musica Viva presented Saturday at Longy School of Music, but "All Three Composers in Attendance" might have been a bigger selling point. The three pieces were, moreover, all Boston Musica Viva commissions of a sort; one was a world premiere, and another was a Boston premiere.
Charles Zoll's "Bailes encima del escritorio de nuestra juventud" was the winning entry in this year's Rapido! Composition Contest, whose five musical sponsors include Boston Musica Viva. Once the lineup of instruments is announced, competitors have two weeks in which to write and submit a piece for that ensemble. Zoll's work, whose title translates as "Dances atop the school desks of our youth," embodied high-school frustration with its squawking oboe (Miri Kudo) and percussive pizzicato from the violin (Jae Young Cosmos Lee) and cello (Jan Müller-Szeraws), not to mention the frequent changes of meter, and Geoffrey Burleson's reaching under the piano lid to strike the strings with mallets.
Andy Vores's "Fabrications 15: Amplification" was the world premiere, an amplification of his 2006 piece "Slow Peacherine Rag," which in turn is a meditation on Scott Joplin's "Peacherine Rag." Written for violin, cello, flutes, clarinets, and percussion, the 10-minute work first deconstructed the rag into slow chords and then reconstructed it in a way that was by turns ghostly and courtly, with a nightingale flute solo from Lisa Hennessy, but rarely suffered us to hear any of the rag rhythm. Given that the evening concluded in under two hours, I wonder whether music director Richard Pittman mightn't have begun with Vores's piece and then repeated it after Zoll's. I would like to have heard it again.
Thea Musgrave's "The Mocking-bird" was a Boston Musica Viva commission from 2001. The libretto of this 30-minute baritone opera is based on Ambrose Bierce's Civil War short story of the same name, in which a Union sentry fires a shot at an unseen intruder and later discovers he has killed his Confederate twin brother. Speaking to the audience, Musgrave said that she had taken "as many words as possible from Bierce," but lines like "Oh God, how I hate this war" and "Where are the golden days of youth?" are heavy-handed in a way that Bierce is not, and though David Kravitz sang powerfully and with feeling, his emotions seemed limited to anger and despair. Hennessy did a fine mockingbird imitation when the other instruments — violin, cello, clarinet, piano, and percussion — didn't cover her. And the piece ended movingly, with Kravitz exiting and Hennessy, still playing, following him.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.