New light on new music at MIM SummerFest |

New light on new music at MIM SummerFest

What a feast Music in the Mountains’ SummerFest gave us! And how lucky we were to have such a range of music and some of the best performers in the land in our midst.

Lucky, indeed, to hear the sold-out performance by Chanticleer, the world-acclaimed all-male choral ensemble, in a program titled “Love’s Messengers,” portraying love in all its aspects, sacred and profane. The music included plain chant and 16th century polyphony, but mostly featured intriguing if unfamiliar 20th century works, as well as versions of folk and popular songs. The 12-member group, styled “An Orchestra of Voices,” is exceptional for its range, precision and expressiveness. No matter what the group sang, the sound was extraordinary, balanced, beautiful and irresistible. John Corigliano’s lush “L’Invitation au Voyage,” John Tavener’s moving portrait of a Greek wedding; or Music Director Joseph Jenning’s stunning arrangement of the poignant “Love for Sale” held us breathless. Did the fact that the program was so “modern” put anyone off? To judge by the applause, certainly not.

Lucky too, earlier in the week, to hear Wet Ink, a show-case for the Nevada County Composers Cooperative devoted entirely to new music, some so new that the ink had indeed not yet dried.

“All music,” said Wet Ink composer Mark Vance “was once new.” And there’s the link between the concerts. Much of what Chanticleer sang was once considered shocking: Palestrina’s counterpoint, Gesualdo’s dissonance, Messiaen’s rhythms, Delius’ harmonies, yet these composers are now in the mainstream. Chanticleer and Wet Ink showed that “modern music” is nothing to be feared. “New” it may have been, but difficult to listen to, hard to understand? Hardly – well, mostly not.

To be sure, Wet Ink had some unusual combinations of instruments and some whimsical titles: Randy McLean’s raucous “Trinoceros” for clarinets and saxophones; Howard Hersh’s evocative “Loop” for piano, cello and xylophone; and Jerry Grant’s partly jazz-inspired “Time Cycles,” a concerto for tuba and pre-recorded midi electronics played with exuberance by Tony Clements. There were unfamiliar sounds and textures but also much lyricism and beauty and homage to earlier composers, such as Jay Sydeman’s Bach-influenced fugue in his ravishing Sonata for Cello.

These two concerts, on the surface so different, showed that there is plenty of mileage in tonal music – accessible, beautiful and memorable. The ovation for the world premiere of Mark Vance’s piano trio “Danse et Jeux,” commissioned by local resident Cliff Smith and stylishly played by the Pegasus Trio, said it all. We wanted more.


Charles Atthill lives in Alta Sierra and sings in the Music in the Mountains Festival Chorale which was proud to sponsor the Chanticleer concert.

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