Concert Review: A Night of New Music With Christian Wolff

This concert included a wide variety of Christian Wolff’s compositions. All of the pieces in this concert were written by Christian Wolff. The majority was played by University of Virginia students and staff but we were also graced by the presence of Christian Wolff when he came out to play his work, Exercise No. 1 (1973 – 74). The venue of less than 100 people provided a very intimate feel to the concert which added to the privilege of seeing such a great composer perform original pieces.

The concert started with University of Virginia students playing Christian Wolff’s composition, Stones (1968). This piece involved the students standing around a table with different types and sizes of stones. They used different surfaces to hit the stones on which produced distinct sounds for each composer. There was no predictable rhyme or reason to this piece which made it hard to predict what was coming next. The variety of sounds and the preciseness of their use came together brilliantly in this piece, creating a very enjoyable overall sound.

The next piece, Pairs (1987), caught my attention for many of the same reasons as Stones (1968). The freedom given to the artists gave the piece a very unique an unpredictable sound. While the piece was very unpredictable you could tell that there was some order to the piece by watching how the performers would watch and interact with each other. Much like with Stones (1968), the performers would sometimes watch each other for specific cues before playing. Knowing that every sound had a general place in this piece but also flexibility added to its enjoy ability tremendously.

The piece Play (1968) stood out for me because of the variety of everyday objects used to make sounds. The majority of the objects used to make sounds were not instruments in the traditional since. Pipes, sticks, and even a top were all used to make sounds for this piece. This piece also contained traditional instruments, such as a guitar, but they were played in unusual ways. The combination of all these aspects added a great deal of uniqueness to the piece which made it very interesting for the listener.

My favorite part of the concert was when Christian Wolff came out to play his composition, Exercise No. 1 (1973 – 74). It was very exciting to see a well known musician play an original piece in such an intimate setting like that of University of Virginia’s Old Cabell Hall. This piece was played on piano and consisted of bits of sound separated by short pauses. There was no noticeable rhythm or melody. There were also frequent changes in tempo. The apparent randomness of this piece made it very interesting for me as a listener.

From this concert, I have gathered that Christian Wolff emphasizes a style of freedom which makes all of his compositions unique and exciting during every listen. Before going to the concert, I may have thought that the seemingly arbitrary style of Wolff was unappealing but at the concert I was able to see that there a basic structure to his style. This basic structure combined with the flexibility allowed by Wolff gives all of his compositions unique and interesting character. I recommend to everyone to not just listen to Wolff’s music but actually go to a concert and see all of these subtleties for yourself.

Source by Philip Eby

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