Smooth Harmonies, Cetacean Melodies

BettyJo Roby

Monday night, a small ensemble dedicated to playing new music, Luna Nova, played in Memorial Chapel to a small but enthusiastic crowd of students and a few professors.

Luna Nova included Dorothy Wu on flute and piccolo, Craig Hultgren on cello and Adam Bowles on piano. However, according to Professor of Music at Colgate Mark Volker, the three instrumentalists comprising this performance group are only part of Luna Nova. The group can include up to six to eight people, including Robert Patterson, who wrote the group’s first selection of the evening, “Oceanic Prelude.”

Marked by surprising progressions and unique techniques, this concert was hardly predictable. The piano tinkered intermittently; the cellist slid his fingers up and down the neck of the cello, intentionally in and out of key; the flutist warbled, sometimes smoothly and sometimes unevenly. The result was an unexpected blend of sounds: high and low, loud and soft, smooth and uneven.

The last piece the group played before the brief intermission was written by Volker. Having known members of Luna Nova individually for several years, Volker accepted a commission to write the piece in the summer of 2007. This was his first time working with the group as a whole. Volker said that his familiarity with the three musicians featured in this piece allowed him to tailor the composition to the members’ strengths. The resulting composition was titled “Painted on the Firmament.”

According to Volker, the piece was first performed at the Belvedere Chamber Music Festival in Memphis, Tennessee, and they have played it several times since.

The first half of the concert also included a flute piece by Toru Takemitsu and a cello piece by Chinary Ung, in addition to Patterson’s composition for all three musicians.

The second half of the concert consisted solely of a piece written by George Crumb, called “Vox Balaenae,” or “Voice of the Whale.” This piece was the most unusual, as well as the most theatrical of the pieces Luna Nova performed. The stage lights were dimmed, and the musicians wore black masks over their eyes. The song, intended to mimic the cries of humpback whales, employed various unconventional techniques, such as strumming piano strings and singing into a flute. Wu and Hultgren also took turns playing Chinese cymbals throughout the last section of the piece.

The result of these techniques was an echo much like that of water and a sporadic melody successfully reminiscent of a whale’s cry. This piece, as well as the others, contained frequent silences, an element that made the melody more pronounced.

“I like to have a couple groups each year to play modern music,” Volker said. “We have to get specialized groups for students to have exposure to this repertoire.”

The concert ended with punch and snacks in the Memorial Chapel’s Garden Level area. Audience members gathered around Luna Nova members and Mark Volker to discuss the music they had just heard.

Luna Nova also participated in a master class with student composers during their visit.

This was only the first of the music department’s Spring Concert Series, so keep an eye out for more concerts in the upcoming weeks.