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Composers’ Cooperative Command Performance: Music worth hearing again

Command Performance? What? Think Queen, Victoria perhaps, or Elizabeth, commanding a musical, theatrical or film performance.

Some performances are Royal Variety Performances, family entertainment, performed by celebrities and benefiting a cause.

It’s not clear who ordered the Command Performance of the Nevada County Composers’ Cooperative on Friday October 8th. But it’s a variety show all right, works written and performed by classical music celebrities and young composers on the move.



Most of the works have been heard locally. So it’s a treat: a chance to hear again the best by local composers, young and … not so young.

At the younger end are Paean Lee, Phil DiLeo, Matthew Drake and Parkle Lee, students of the rigorous Music in the Mountains Young Composers Program. Their teachers, composers Jerry Grant, Mark Vance, and Richard Altenbach complete the program, performed by clarinetist Henry Hansen, cellist David Eby, flutist Kirsti Powell, soprano Ann Frederickson, pianist Greg Mason, the piano-four-hands duo of Ken Hardin and Aileen James, and violinist Altenbach doing double duty. A line-up fit for a monarch.




15 year-old Paean Lee’s single movement Sisters is for piccolo and cello. “I like the pairing: high-pitched piccolo and deep grounding cello,” says Paean.

Parkle Lee’s Virtuosi spotlights the performers’ virtuosity. “There’s only one movement. It’s rather short; so listen up,” quips 18 year-old Parkle, himself a virtuoso on four instruments.

By contrast the inspiration for 17 year-old Drake’s Piano Trio is earthy. “The three movements, Dance, Haiku and Hulk, convey the complicated hormonal lives of teenagers through the emotions Happy, Angry, and Sad,” says Drake.

18 year-old DiLeo’s 1440, four movements for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, is also rooted in life. “1440,” explains DiLeo, “is the number of minutes in a day. Each movement is named after a particular minute. The first movement, “6:05a.m.,” for example, is lethargic and slow.” Imagine the rest of a student’s day.

New is Altenbach’s “The Jester’s Waltz”, a farcical parody inspired not by Strauss but by Satie and Cirque du Soleil. “It’s playful, hilarious, manic, and fiendishly fast,” laughs Altenbach, “perfect for Greg Mason’s mercurial fingers!”

Back for another hearing are Grant’s jazz-influenced Songs Without Words, using vowels and scat syllables instead of text. Expect vocal gymnastics. His Celsius 961 for solo flute expresses the fluidity of Ti Chi. “Celsius 961,” Grant explains, “is the temperature at which the sterling silver flute melts and refers to the liquid approach to the work.”

Finally Vance’s The New Life and In These Uncertain Times are dazzling and demanding pieces for violin and piano-four hands, one full of life, harmonious and warm, the other uneasy, fragmented, angry even. Guess which is which.

Variety enough for a Royal Command Performance; celebrities galore; virtuoso the word of the moment. And like Royal Variety Performances the concert benefits a worthwhile cause: the Composers’ educational programs. Music worth hearing again.

Charles Atthill lives in Alta Sierra. Rumors that Her Majesty will be attending the Command Performance have not been confirmed.


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