Galina Ustvolskaya Credit:

In an addendum to the liner notes of a reissued 1993 album of the first recordings of music by Galina Ustvolskaya, scholar Art Lange offers corrections and new revelations about the reclusive Russian composer. At the time of the original release, just after the era of glasnost had ended in the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ustvolskaya’s work was just beginning to reach the West, but very little was known about her life or the full range of her compositions. A prodigious student of composer Dmitri Shostakovich, Ustvolskaya had been shut down by the repressive nationalism of Stalin’s regime, and since her music eschewed hollow patriotism, it was almost as obscure in her homeland as it was in the rest of the world. Things had changed by the time she died at age 87 in 2006, but until this weekend there had never been an American festival devoted to her uncompromisingly dark, powerful oeuvre. Organized by experimental musician, composer, and educator Nomi Epstein and award-winning flutist and educator Shanna Gutierrez, Power in Sound: The Music of Galina Ustvolskaya features three ambitious concert programs performed by a strong cast of Chicago new-music practitioners along with an academic symposium at the University of Chicago. The opening concert showcases music Ustvolskaya wrote after 1970, when she largely composed without any expectation that the music would be heard publicly (and it wasn’t, by and large, until the 90s). The ambitious works, marked by heavy rhythms and somber timbres, are among her most harrowing. Ustvolskaya insisted that she didn’t write chamber music, and even if the instrumentation of nearly all of her pieces belies that claim, the stylistic range and gut-punch impact of her 1949 Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano—voiced with luminous, visceral clarity on the Hat Art reissue mentioned above—or the monolithic power of her 1959 Grand Duet for Violin and Piano smash any notion of the term and lend credence to her assertion. Both pieces appear on the second program, where they’ll be complemented by works by two contemporary Russian musicians, Marina Khorkova and Dariya Maminova. The festival concludes with piano interpretations of four of the six sonatas for the instrument Ustvolskaya composed between 1947 and 1988. As time progressed her compositions gained in physicality and starkness, so that the final sonata (which is among those played), consists of an all-out assault of chromatic clusters.   v