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Modern Composers
February 20, 2001

Modern ComposersCold Water, Dry Stone: New Music with Traditional Roots. Music of Evan Chambers, performed by Quorum, with guest soloist Jennifer Goltz, soprano. Cold Water, Dry Stone; Three Tannahill Songs; Crossroads Songs; The Fire Hose Reel; Come Down Heavy! (Albany/Troy, CD # TROY422) 2000.

American composer Evan Chambers was born in 1963, in Alexandria, Louisiana. Like many of the latest generation of composers, Chambers takes musical elements from anywhere and everywhere, and fashions them into remarkably original and rich compositions. This new album from Albany/Troy contains six of Chambers' works, performed by the sextet Quorum, with guest vocalist Jennifer Goltz. Quorum is itself part of the new generation of American musicians. The group, formed in 1994, consists of an unusual combination of instruments - clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, piano, violin, and percussion. Because of the unique make-up of the group, they have actively commissioned new works, including the title piece of the present album, but also perform (sometimes slightly re-worked versions of) other contemporary works.

Chambers is Director of Electronic Music Studios at the University of Michigan, where he also teaches composition. In his comments on the origins of the works in the present album, he says that he is fascinated by the concept of borders. "The beauty of borders," Chambers says, "lies not merely in that they are there to be crossed, but also in how we live with and within them, and in the realization that what an edge describes is not what is marginal, but rather what is central: the point at which things connect." His feeling for borders and edges comes partly from his upbringing: "I grew up," he says "on the edge of the suburbs. Living at a balance point between urban and rural, I...moved in both." He also moved in the worlds of both classical and folk music, and he says he "came to love the beauty of in-between space," both literal and figurative. The pieces on this album, especially the title work, epitomize that notion of borders that define both the space inside and that outside.

Cold Water, Dry Stone is a work in three movements, each one evocative of a scene remembered from a trip the composer took to Albania. The first movement is based on the semi-improvisational form called "kaba," sometimes described, says the composer, as "music with tears." "I imagined," Chambers says, "icy water flowing out over the parched and aching land, providing comfort and relief from the great sadness of the place, finally crashing over rocks into the sea." The second movement, The Road to Gjirokaster, refers to the Albanian city that was formerly the site of yearly folk festivals, now discontinued. The piece evokes for the composer "the ghostly residual presence of musicians and costumed dancers from the past flashing all around," and also "the sinister shade of a cruel dictator." The title of the third section, The Dry Stones of Dukat, refers to the hometown of an Albanian musician whose songs, says Chambers, "seem almost like storage vessels for power and strength, holding a sustaining and triumphant defiance that launches itself from the distant past well out into the future." Cold Water, Dry Stone is a powerful statement from a young composer with a solid vision.

You can hear Cold Water, Dry Stone by Evan Chambers, performed by Quorum, on WHIL-FM (91.3) Thursday, February 22 at 7:00 p.m. as part of their weekly series of music from after 1950.

-- J. Green


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