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Review: Kevin Puts offers contemporary works at Cliburn at the Modern

Posted 10:25am on Sunday, Sep. 22, 2013

The Cliburn at the Modern Series brings today’s leading composers into the intimate auditorium at the Modern Art Museum, and moderator Shields-Collins Bray keeps the format informal.

On Saturday, the composer who came to visit was Kevin Puts, a name now very familiar in classical music circles in North Texas. He was the composer-in-residence for the Fort Worth Symphony in 2007, and his Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, Silent Night, will be a part of the 2014 Fort Worth Opera Festival.

In some ways, the last piece on the program Saturday should have come first. The multi-movement work for marimba and piano, Ritual Protocol, was a student composition written while Puts was at Eastman as an undergraduate. Percussionist Drew Long played the challenging marimba part. Bray was at the piano for the entire program.

Puts’ roots in the minimalist school are apparent in this piece and, hearing it after his other, more recent works, you better understand his musical journey. His later pieces still have a whiff of minimalism, with their signature use of repeated chords and melodic fragments, but his musical language and style metamorphosed past this into a fresh take on neo-romantisism.

The middle two pieces on the program were prime examples. They were two movements from a four-movement suite titled Airs, each for a different instrument and piano. The first featured FWSO Concertmaster Michael Shih on violin, and the other “air” was played by clarinetist Ivan Petruzziello (a last minute replacement for FWSO clarinetist Ana Victoria Luperi).

Both pieces featured long angular melodies, with the one for violin being the most romantic of the two. These melodies often existed in their own tonal world, apart from that of the piano, but the effect was not disjointed.

The opening work, Three Nocturnes, was commissioned by the Verdehr Trio, made up of a violin, clarinet and piano. Puts’ penchant for long, soaring melodies painted over a tonal canvas was in evidence here, as well. The last nocturne was mostly for the piano, with the other two joining in for the final resolution.

Composers these days are free to write in any style they choose, and the requirement that new pieces be “modern” (by which they mean dissonant) is gone.

“My music isn’t for everybody,” Puts said, in a reference to the criticism he gets from what remains of the dissonant hierarchy.

Saturday’s appreciative audience would heartily disagree.

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