CONTEMPORARY CHAMBER PLAYERS
The Contemporary Chamber Players, one of the country’s oldest advocates of new music, is at a crossroads for the second time in four years. The audience for the type of academic art music that dominates its programming is dwindling, and the University of Chicago’s music faculty, which oversees its operations, hasn’t taken an active interest in its doings since founder and artistic guardian Ralph Shapey was forced into retirement in 1994. The current music director, Stephen Mosko, can only do so much, as he commutes every spring from his teaching post at CalArts. But what he’s accomplished under the circumstances is fairly remarkable: he’s managed to carry on Shapey’s legacy of passionate commitment to the overlooked while subtly lessening the ensemble’s longtime east-coast bias. Though trained at Yale, that bastion of the Eurocentric avant-garde, Mosko is just as likely to embrace the Asian-influenced ideas of John Cage and Lou Harrison. And the season opener features two absorbingly original works by Americans, Morton Feldman’s For Samuel Beckett and Nine Preludes for Piano by Chicago composer and folk-music historian Ruth Crawford. Feldman finished For Samuel Beckett shortly before dying in 1987, and it’s an uncanny musical analogue for the stylistic preoccupations of a kindred spirit and favorite collaborator (Beckett wrote the libretto for Feldman’s Neither). The instruments of the chamber orchestra function as existential monologuists; nothing much is uttered, yet the slightest shift in nuance or texture speaks volumes. Among the musicians presenting this piece are vets Sharon Polifrone (violin), Keith Conant (viola), Charlene Zimmerman (clarinet), and Robert Morgan (oboe). The soloist in Crawford’s intricately dissonant and markedly impressionistic preludes is Andrea Swan. Sunday, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 773-702-8068. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Andrea Swan uncredited photo.