A new installation at the San Diego Museum of Art was the setting for Art of Elan’s concert Wednesday evening, “Broken Windows.”
Justin Sterling’s “Chapel of the Rocks” stands inside SDMA’s main exhibition gallery. It is a small plywood structure featuring materials the artist reclaimed from the streets of New York, chief among them windows. He broke, colored and reassembled them, creating low-tech stained-glass windows. The chapel was also adorned with fire hydrants, bullet casings, expanding insulation foam and a traffic cone wrapped in a hoodie.
Although Art of Elan Executive Director Kate Hatmaker pointed out that “Broken Windows” alluded to the controversial policing theory overzealously applied by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, it was hard to detect how that pertained to the largely meditative works by Alan Hovhaness, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Juhi Bansal and Kevin Puts.
The correlation between Sterling’s broken stained-glass windows, housed in a place for spiritual reflection, and the concert program was more apparent.
The main fare of the evening, “Credo” by Puts, was a 20-minute-long string quartet. Although the title suggests the recitation of Roman Catholic beliefs, Puts’ program notes confessed his distrust in blind faith. “Credo” found inspiration in a violin specialist’s workshop, jogging paths along the Monongahela River, and in the view from Puts’ New York apartment of a mother teaching her daughter to dance.
Art of Elan has featured Puts’ conservative but effective music before. This 2007 work alternated luxurious slow music with ostinato grooves in the vein of John Adams. First violin Wesley Precourt played Puts’ melodies with luxurious flair, and the contributions by the rest of the ensemble — Hatmaker on second violin, Hanah Stuart on viola and Alex Greenbaumon cello — were equally essential.
The audience seemed most moved by Puts’ musical rhetoric, but I found more serene beauty in the concert opener, Hovhaness’ “Upon Enchanted Ground” (1951). At a time when few American composers looked to the East, Hovhaness was inspired by the traditional music of Japan, Korea and Armenia. What may have seemed quaint 71 years ago now appears a prescient hybridization of Asian and Western elements.
It is a short, mysterious piece exploring different instrumental combinations: a trio for flute, harp and cello; a harp solo with mysterious strokes of the tam-tam; and a brief flowering of all four instruments before it enigmatically closes. Rose Lombardo’s flute melodies were alluring, with sensuous offerings by Julie Smith Phillips on harp, Greenbaum on cello and Andrew Watkins on tam-tam.
At 38, Bansal was the youngest composer on the program. Her solo harp work, “Trail of Stars,” harked back to the early 20th century with impressionistic harmonies underpinning a simple yet ever-evolving melody. Phillips gave it a riveting performance.
Holland’s “His House Is Not Of This Land” was the most religion-inspired composition of the evening, an instrumental attempt to capture the blue-note harmonies and rhythmic freedom of an African American worship service. Lombardo on alto flute, Max Opferkuch on bass clarinet, Precourt on violin, Stuart on viola and Greenbaum on cello vividly rendered Holland’s musical portrait.
Planned or not, every piece on the program ended abruptly or unexpectedly. In these suggestions of more music to come which never arrived, to paraphrase Scripture, faith became the evidence of things not heard.
Hertzog is a freelance writer.
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