Composer Profile–A Composer’s Journey, by Vasiliy Medved

Composer Profile

A Composer’s Journey, by Vasiliy Medved., revised and edited by Gregory Hall

(Editor’s note: Mr. Medved’s personal journey has taken him from his first compositional endeavors in his native Ukraine, to a fully professional career here in the States. As such he brings perspectives on modern composition that draw from techniques modern yet rooted in the ecstatic visions of his homeland.)

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I was a self-taught musician for many years, and, therefore, much of my early music was ear-based and homophonic, and there was little consideration for voice-leading, structural elements, and formal procedures when I composed music during that period. Yet the use of some extended tonality was evident right from the beginning of my compositional activities, for I was instinctively trying to get out of the boundaries of tonal thinking from the outset. When my composition and music theory studies started a whole new world of ideas, techniques, and directions opened me to new possibilities, and, literally, tore apart my heart. I have gradually come to understand that I should be looking for a special means of musical expression that would define my own identity both as a composer and as a man on a path to personal redemption. Music that I compose tends to speak of the soul that needs to be forgiven; for this reason, I searched for musical idioms that could help me delineate this entreaty of the lonely heart to the heavens. That is why polyphony—contemporary and traditional–has become a favorite means of expression in my compositions.

I understand human beings as many-sided individuals, whose deeply fragmented interior worlds bear the weight of man’s unresolved existential questions. I also think that our inner selves need to be pacified and harmonized through a voluntarily surrender to the idea of tolerance toward people, and in forgiveness of our own and other individual’s weaknesses. For me, polyphony exemplifies–allegorically speaking–a vast field of inner reality, where the central idea of human transcendence is exemplified through complex polyphonic procedures. This notion of personal redemption through polyphony profoundly influences me on all levels, exemplified by the contrapuntal development of a fugue’s subject and answer distributed throughout a polyphonic texture. Thus, the heterogeneity of polyphonic textures may serve to illustrate my own inner diversity, and ideas of love and compassion symbolized by these musical textures might unite my fragmented nature to help me regain a lost sense of inner harmony.

In short, music has become for me more linear in nature, yet simultaneously full of harmony. The coexistence in my music of fine and coarse intervals (secondal and triadic), simultaneous horizontal and vertical textures, and the freedom of open musical space vs. temporary deviations into passages of tonal organization; all of these things speak–to me at least–of one never-ending story, of a person’s journey back to their forgotten home. It is a journey full of dangers and pitfalls, a journey with a sense of its own uniqueness; for each prodigal goes through their own experiences along the way. This is why a third factor particularly important to me lies in the domain of colors, and here one may make as many correlations as one wishes, beginning with the colors of sonorities as metaphor, to the perceived colors of different musical scales, up through to the craft of orchestral coloration—itself the height of the composer’s art.

This all requires a trained mind, but Her Majesty Music should never let the mind forget about its other purpose—the initial reason for all that we write lies in the fields of Love and Hope. I think that a consensus could be achieved here; the craft of musical creation should be humanized with our emotions, with tender emotion that comes directly from the heart. If our mind can perceive what our heart seeks to express, then the heart can assign the mind the task of finding the best musical presentation, the most appropriate form that would allow us to utter the message of Hope with precision and accuracy.

Vasiliy Medved/Gregory Hall

Reprinted by permission of CRS Inc.  (www.crsnews.org)  Inquiries about recordings/concerts/master classes may be directed to the CRS web page.

CD Review–Music from Prague

CD Review

Music from Prague: Works by Weber, Milhaud, Krenek, Schlenck, Reiprich

CRS CD 1192

Weber’s status as a sort of lesser Beethoven is to some extent confirmed by his Clarinet Concerto No. 1, as it seems a rambling mix of both Mozart and Beethoven. However, John Russo’s singing tone manages to bring out the Mozart in Weber. Russo seems to realize that Mozart “invented” the clarinet concerto, and the rollicking good humor evident right from the start of the piece culminates in a first cadenza which is a showplace for the varied tessituras of the instrument. Russo understands and revels in those coloristic contrasts throughout the work. As the piece moves into the second theme, his seamless connection of tessituras within the long scalar runs shows his ability to link the different registers without a hitch.

The cantabile second movement again becomes Mozartean in Russo’s hands. The noble theme for horn and clarinet (which allows the piece to become, temporarily, a wind quintet of sorts) is resolved into the repeat of the cantabile. Russo brings the main theme back with great sensitivity, which significantly ennobles this performance of the work.

Rollicking. A Russo specialty; and almost never more apparent than at the beginning of the Allegretto. This movement is perhaps better realized than the others, both in terms of clarinet and surrounding writing, and Russo makes the most of it.

An endless stream. Many of Darius Milhaud’s works begin as if he had picked up where he left off finishing his last work, and the Anime of his Clarinet Concerto is no exception. That said it is a delightful movement, one which partakes of the best qualities of a composer to whom music came as naturally as breathing. Composed in 1946, this movement is replete with echoes of French music from the first half of the twentieth century in its ramblings–from Ravel to Messiaen–but never as serious. Russo understands these ruminations, and heartily follows Milhaud’s wanderings.

The Décide second movement has echoes of the music hall “Les Six”; and like the music of Milhaud and his fellows in the 1920’s has passages by turns bawdy and exquisite. This one, however, is mostly Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit, and Russo plays it for all its cafe orchestra worth.

The Lent is the exotic Poulenc of Honoloulou (from his Rapsodie nègre); softly repetitive, it also reminds me of the “dream of Madagascar” atmosphere of Poulenc’s song Paul et Virginie. Russo’s clarinet bridges the gentle gaps within the dream, from distant drums to muted brass, always coloring the moods reflectively and accurately. This is not a movement I wanted to end.

Milhaud was a chronicler of the illustrious period in French music from 1900 to 1950, both as active participant and later as remembrant, and the final Anime returns to the music hall. Here are also echoes of his own “busy” music, the sort of texture Gershwin would borrow for the beginning of American in Paris. Russo’s ruminations have enough “jazz” in them to bring the piece even more to life.

I was fortunate enough to meet Ernst Krenek in the early 1980’s; this last “relic” not only of the early days of twentieth century composition but of the type of severe, formal training that essentially passed away soon after the advent of mid-century Modernism was a formidable figure even in his eighties. The severity and seriousness of his craft is well documented in the Monologue for solo clarinet. In musical movements freely atonal yet written in a dodecaphonic spirit Krenek uses intervallic counterpoint to liberate himself from the sense of underlying harmony, yet simultaneously manages to imply a very strong harmonic structure: no mean feat, and verification of his excellent old-world training. Colors again abound in Russo’s interpretation, one I wish Krenek could have heard.

Schlenck’s Concerto initially reminded me of certain works by Alan Hovhaness. Hovhaness was one of the first Western composers to compose in a truly scalar manner—a trait of Eastern musics in general—and this piece—based on Indian Ragas–does so very deliberately, partaking of the linearity inherent in contemporary set theory. About midway through the movement the linear textures are augmented by chordal blocks reminiscent of Roy Harris—a nice and surprisingly appropriate juxtaposition. The rest of the movement skillfully plays out these opposing textures.

The Allegro is more deliberately polyphonic–and Western—despite the presence of an Indian tala (meter). Near the end, a very Roy Harris style chord progression appears again–obviously Harris is a strong influence on this composer.

The beginning of Bruce Reiprich’s Swans for chamber orchestra brings back some of the exquisite French feel of the Milhaud. Episodic, Takemitsu-like textures follow in a deliberately non-linear manner, reminding me of some of the atmospheric short works of Ives (The Pond). This is nature music, a kind of “maximal minimalism”, in which there is little musical development but much atmosphere—certainly not an inappropriate approach considering that the piece is something of an elegy to the composer’s father. A work worthy of repeated listenings, to best catch nuances missed the first time.

Gregory Hall

Reprinted by permission of CRS Inc.  (www.crsnews.org)  Inquiries about recordings/concerts/master classes may be directed to the CRS web page.